BWW Review: Whitchurch Examines Marriage in Shakespeare his wife and the dog
It takes an awfully long time to get to the point in Philip Whitchurch's original one act play directed by Julia St. John. Set during a fictional night in the lives of William Shakespeare (played by Whitchurch) and his wife Anne (Sally Edwards) at their home in Stratford-upon-Avon, the story reveals a couple in their later years, bickering but still clearly in love, yet it takes nearly half the play and a frustratingly slow plod through its exposition to get there.
The first half of the 65-minute character study sets up the couple's inability to communicate but does so with repetitious and often contrived dialogue. His is peppered with endless bits and bobs of quotes from his plays while waiting for a mysterious guest to arrive. Hers is full of questions about why her husband won't talk to her and an obsession with finding their dog. Each is hiding something that will eventually come to light. Once it does, the play and the love they share, begin to matter. The writing loses its "clever for clever's sake" feel and what emerges is something more substantial about the understanding of real life issues.
Historically, Shakespeare had retired from his theatre life in London several years earlier and returned to Stratford to live out the remainder of his days. Little is known about the details of his personal life so Whitchurch's story is plausible, and even quite perceptive, once the state of affairs becomes known.
Whitchurch and Edwards' own lengthy real-life marriage adds weight to their performances. Despite an underlying awkwardness on opening night that might have been attributed to working in the space for the first time, they are comfortable together on stage and their relationship is believable. His various levels of agitation and her swings between practicality and helplessness paint a realistic portrait of the intimacy marriage elicits.
Designer Aline Jeffrey uses minimal set pieces and props to create the design of Shakespeare's man cave. The most significant visual is a large trunk overflowing with the writer's manuscripts and other tools of the trade. Papers cover the floor and a mysterious box with a secret will eventually be plucked from within to reveal another painful truth. Hilary Lewis' bedclothes are appropriately functional and unobtrusive.
SHAKESPEARE HIS WIFE AND THE DOG
January 18 - 28, 2018
The Broad Stage
1310 11th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Photo credit: Courtesy of Bated Breath