Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Last Will

Imagine Through a Glass Darkly with Shakespeare as the writer returning home to his family. What greater palette for the examination of the narcissism and brilliance of the artistic personality than that of the greatest creative mind of all time! That’s what Robert Brustein is up to in The Last Will, his wistful look at a Shakespeare who comes home to make peace with his family, currently playing at the Abingdon Theater and directed by Austin Pendleton. Like Stephen Greenblatt who wrote Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Brustein plays upon the double and triple entendres of the playwright’s name in examining both his literal will and his legacy. In The Last Will, flashes of Othello’s jealousy, Lear’s paranoia and host of other affects are conscripted in the service of the venereal disease which has afflicted Shakespeare’s (Austin Pendleton) mind in his last days. Indeed, he’s decided to leave  everything to his daughter Susanna (Merritt Janson), an Anabaptist, whose dream is to shut down the theaters which play her father’s sinful works. In his fever, Shakespeare calls Anne Hathaway (Stephanie Roth Haberle) Gertrude and his other daughter Judith (Christianna Nelson), Desdemona then Perdita. He can no longer distinguish the characters he’s created from family and friends, like the great actor Richard Burbage (Jeremiah Kissel). Curiously Brustein’s portrait of Shakespeare’s marriage is reminiscent of the conflict between the Lincolns portrayed in the Spielberg movie, right down to the presence of a dead son who haunts the narrative. Long a scholar of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Brustein, founder of the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, and one of America’s most brilliant theater critics, is uniquely qualified to find a place for Shakespeare in a pantheon of characters whose flames burned too brightly.

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