Shakespeare's Will

By Vern Thiessen. Directed by Geoffrey Brumlik. A Gateway Theatre production. At the Gateway Theatre until February 18

You might enjoy bits of the second act-if you manage to stay awake that long.

In Shakespeare's Will, playwright Vern Thiessen imagines what the Bard's marriage might have looked like from the perspective of his wife, Anne Hathaway. He introduces us to Anne just after her she has attended her husband's funeral. For most of the play, she looks back at and reflects upon their unusual union. (She stayed in Stratford while he made it big in London.)

Unfortunately, virtually nothing happens in Act 1. The romance is tepid. Right off the top, Anne says that Bill hasn't been a very good lover to her; even in the flashback scenes, their relationship seems more tentative than passionate. Thiessen makes a couple of bold strokes-his Shakespeare is both Catholic and funda?mentally homosexual-but the character remains pretty much a cipher. And, this being a solo show, he never actually appears. Why should we invest in such a muted, ill-defined union? And exactly what problem are we supposed to be engaging with? Shakespeare withdraws from his wife, but he's barely ever there, so who cares?

Rather than provide compelling events, Thiessen gives us lists-Anne displays the toys Bill brought the children on a visit home and she describes several of her lovers. There's no momentum, and the stakes are low.

Act 2 improves; it contains sustained passages about the death of the couple's son, Hamnet, and about the Plague. Still, the supposedly central relationship remains elusive.

Actor Jan Alexander Smith does a decent job, but she can't save Anne from writing that suspends her in time-an odd hybrid of Elizabethan references and modern sensibilities.