note: entire contents copyright 2013 by Sheila Barth
For centuries, little was known about William Shakespeare’s life, or his last will and testament, which contains curiously fascinating information.
In the past few weeks, that document has been the focal point of two excellent plays - Vern Thiessen’s one-woman, one-act play, “Shakespeare’s Will,” recently presented by Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, and Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC) and Suffolk University’s brilliant production of Suffolk Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence Robert Brustein’s “The Last Will,” currently appearing at Modern Theatre at Suffolk University, 525 Washington Street, Boston, through Feb. 24.
Brustein’s one-act play is the final installation of his trilogy about the Bard from Stratford-on-Avon, and the theater companies have gone all-out to create masterpieces. CSC founding Artistic Director-Director Steven Maler (who annually helms the spectacular Shakespeare on the Common productions, and other national and international successes) delivers his usual marvelous flair here.
Brustein makes no bones about letting his speculation color the scant information about Shakespeare, his final days, and will, in which he slighted his wife, Anne Hathaway, by only leaving her his “second best bed”
. Boston award-winning actor Allyn Burrows is intriguing, giving a command performance as the mentally and physically deteriorating Shakespeare, who returned home at age 48, to retire and spend more time with his family, knowing he’s about to die. In his confused state, Shakespeare accuses Anne of having an “incestuous” affair with his terminally ill brother, Gilbert, muttering Gilbert confessed to fathering the Bard’s twins, Hamnett (who died at 11 years old) and Judith. As his illness worsens - he suspects he’s in the final throes of syphilis - Shakespeare fades in and out of reality. His mind, stream-of-consciousness, and soliloquies mimic characters and dialogue in his plays
. Boston favorite star Jeremiah Kissel is brilliant as Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s dear friend, confidante, and famous London actor, who tries to reason with the fading literary giant, and keep peace among his family.
Also outstanding is Stacy Fischer as Shakespeare’s once-favorite daughter Judith, who arouses his displeasure by marrying a suitor of whom he heavily disapproves; and Merritt Janson as his conniving eldest daughter, Susanna. Billy Meleady as Shakespeare’s lawyer, Francis Collins, who’s in cahoots with Susanna, and Brooke Adams as Anne Hathaway, round out this outstanding cast.
Nancy Leary’s costumes, Eric Levenson’s stark, tri-level, metal set, Eric Southern’s dramatic lighting and David Remedios‘ echoing, stream-of-consciousness sound effects intensify and illuminate key scenes.
BOX INFO: One-act play by Robert Brustein, making its world premiere with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company and Suffolk University to Feb. 24, at the Modern Theatre at Suffolk University, 525 Washington Street, Boston. Performances: Wednesday, Thursday, at 7 p.m., Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 3,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. Tickets for Saturday night, $45; general tickets, $40; seniors, $30; students, $10. Call 800-440-7654.