BENNINGTON — Oldcastle Theatre Company continues its pandemic comeback season with an abbreviated and deeply nuanced run of Vern Thiessen’s popular one-woman play, “Shakespeare’s Will.”
Directed by Oldcastle’s artistic director Nathan Stith, the production stars one of the company’s longtime favorites, Katrina Ferguson, as Anne Hathaway, wife to one Bill Shakespeare. The story focuses on the will given to the widow Hathaway when she departs his funeral. Anne is surprised that such a document exists, and further intrigued by Shakespeare’s sister Joan, who delivered it.
What follows is a journey of Anne’s own childhood memories, Shakespeare’s separate and mysterious London life, as well as her role in protecting their children from the plague. Launched in comedic tones regarding two people who resent being in each other’s presence, the plot develops into tense drama, as old wounds are opened and family secrets uncovered.
Stith, who worked closely with Ferguson, clearly achieved his stated vision for Anne to bridge the journey between humor and pain.
Ferguson, of course, should take a long bow, as she did not once — upon receiving a standing ovation at the end of the 75-minute show — but twice, when the packed house refused to let the evening end without a well-deserved curtain call.
Indeed, it occurred to me while sitting in the shadows and watching Ferguson that I’ve been fortunate enough to follow every show of her long association with Oldcastle, dating back two decades.
And so it struck me that Ferguson, theater accoutrements notwithstanding, has not aged a day in the 20 years I’ve been attending her performances, all in an act of age-defying, while her acting has matured like the finest of wines: over time, and in nuanced ways that one can only fully appreciate if they have been there from the start.
But if this was your first time seeing Ferguson on stage, you would have been wowed, without a doubt. Ferguson made us laugh, made us chuckle, gave us goose bumps as well as misty eyes throughout her sometimes dazzling, sometimes somber, but ever-tireless and mellifluous delivery. Ferguson seized Anne not just by the scruff of the neck, but also by the heartstrings, and made the Bard’s widow her very own.
One-actor plays are difficult enough as is, just by their nature, but Ferguson filled the theater with so much raw emotion that no plaudit, no review, no standing ovation on that night could do her justice.
The Oldcastle crew followed Ferguson’s lead. Richard Howe mastered the set design of the period and the surreal beautifully. Ken Mooney’s costume hit the target historically and aesthetically on the statuesque Ferguson.
Lights by David V. Groupe and sound by Cory Wheat enhanced the audience experience, with particularly sublime work going into the seaside holiday rendition. And as expected, Kristine Schlachter’s stage management buttoned up the show’s logistics in a tidy package, efficiently delivered.
Oldcastle is the one local company that doesn’t have an outdoor venue to launch its season, and has had to carry on indoors, opening the season with Actor’s Equity Association one-size-fits-all COVID masking protocols. Mercifully, the rules have recently been relaxed, and it was heartening to see an audience which was likely almost fully vaccinated be given options.
That said, it’s most important to remember that this run of “Shakespeare’s Will” is a short one, and so there are only a handful of performances left. You don’t have to be as fortunate as I’ve been to have seen Ferguson act for so long. Just grab up whatever ticket is left and sit back, see this show, and take heart that every human trait exhibited by the widow Anne Hathaway plays directly to the core of our humanity.
“Shakespeare’s Will” by Vern Thiessen and directed by Nathan Stith, will run through Aug. 15 at the Bennington Performing Arts Center (BPAC) – The Home of Oldcastle Theatre Company, 331 Main St., Bennington. Indoor pod seating and masks encouraged but not required. Tickets: call the box office at 802-447-05654 or visit oldcastletheatre.org.