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Kristin Wold Takes Center Stage In The Story Of The Bard’s Bed

By Jeremy D. Goodwin

Among other things, Kristin Wold has spent the past two-and-a-half decades playing and teaching all things Shakespeare. But with the exception of a cluster of iconic female leads— like Rosalind in As You Like It and Viola in Twelfth Night—the Bard was famously stingy when handing out lines for the ladies, or in his day, the boys dressed as ladies. 

So for her 25th season at Shakespeare & Company, and her first ever chance at a one-woman show, the full-time Lenox resident is stepping away from the company’s namesake—and portraying his wife.

As Anne Shakespeare (nee Hathaway), Wold takes the stage in a conjectural look at the private life of the Bard of Avon. Shakespeare’s Will, written by Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen, depicts Anne shortly after the death of her husband. The play’s punny title refers to the writer’s last will and testament, which includes an ambiguous remark that can be read as a tender gesture to his wife or a stinging kiss-off that resounds through the centuries.

The play is a mix of the contemporary and the classical. Written entirely in blank verse, it paints a portrait of a woman with some modern attitudes.

“It’s a pretty feminist take on this woman. Some of the ideas about sexuality are pretty modern,” Wold says, musing over a latte one recent morning before rehearsal. To cram the interview into the midst of a hectic rehearsal schedule, it’s scheduled for nine a.m.  The latte is not her first coffee of the day.

The rehearsal schedule has been particularly crazy because the first two weeks overlapped with Wold’s duties as an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches theater students. The long drive at least gave her a chance to polish her lines as she listened to a recording of herself reading the play out loud.

Director Daniela Varon, another S&Co. stalwart, joins the conversation midway and marvels at Wold’s approach to the challenging task. For a one-person show like this, a seven-hour rehearsal day can be draining. “At the beginning I said that if it gets to where we’re not being productive, we’ll just stop there. That’s never happened. And she’s still ticking at the end of the day,” Varon says. “Once she’s in the rehearsal room she’s like the most intensely present person ever.”

Wold in a scene from Shakespeare’s Will. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Wold’s professional career has been entwined with Shakespeare pretty much from the start. She first came into the orbit of S&So. after founding company member Tony Simotes directed her in a production of Macbeth at Florida State University when she was an undergrad. Simotes must have made a big impression, because after college she headed straight to Lenox for the company’s summer acting internship. 

She stuck around. Jobs with the grounds crew at The Mount and yeoman’s work in a schools tour of Romeo and Juliet soon gave way to roles on the main stage and the chance to teach movement in the company’s actor training workshops.

Her migration to the Berkshires also put her in place to cast an important role in her private life. On the would-be opening night of a production of The Taming of the Shrew at S&Co.’s old outdoor stage in 1992, a rainstorm forced the assembled audience into The Mount. In the cramped quarters, she finally had the chance to talk with a dashing actor named Tom Rindge who she’d previously seen perform in a show at Berkshire Theatre Festival. With Shrew washed out, they hung around and danced together at the party. More than 20 years later, the now-married couple is working around the corner from each other in the Elayne P. Bernstein Center for the Performing Arts: Kristin in Rehearsal Studio 2, Tom in the office where he reigns as the company’s production director when not ambling around campus, putting out fires and solving problems.

A drawing by Sir Nathaniel Curzon thought to be a tracing of a portrait of Anne Hathaway.

Every word Shakespeare wrote has been studied and scrutinized, from his unparalleled collection of plays and sonnets to the handful of legal documents and ephemera that survive as documentary evidence of his life. 

As little as we know about the Bard, we know even less about his wife. She was older—he was 18 when they married, while she was in danger of becoming an old maid at the creaky age of 26. The timing of their marriage seems related to the fact that she delivered their first child six months later. (Twins would follow later.) Throughout their marriage he was usually far away, living and working in London while she raised the children back at Stratford-upon-Avon. He seems to have referenced her in one sonnet.

From these facts, and innumerable hints that may or may not be scattered throughout the plays, centuries of scholars have ventured to fill in the blanks about their relationship.

Which brings us to that will.

In the three-page document, Shakespeare (in)famously made exactly one specific bequest to his wife: the couple’s “second best bed.”

Wold (with John Douglas Thompson) as Emilia in S&Co.‘s much- lauded production of Othello.

To the modern eye, that seems pretty harsh. But some scholars find a sentimental gesture here. In the Elizabethan-era household, the better bed would have been reserved for guests. The “second best bed,” perhaps, was the one the couple had shared. “Here’s this huge diss,” Varon explains, “or maybe it’s a specific and tender bequest to make sure that she gets the marital bed. Where they made the babies, where the babies were born.”

Wold says she didn’t have much of a picture of Anne in her head before tackling the play. She’s sought insight into Anne’s experiences through research that’s included visiting a beekeeper and watching videos of childbirth.

In a few minutes, actor and director will convene in one of S&Co.’s rehearsal studios, working out the blocking for the play’s second half. A portrait of Anne is pinned to the wall.

Female Shakespeareans are usually challenged to make the most of limited stage time, compared to their male peers. Even when Wold played the key character Emilia in the company’s barnburner of an Othello in 2008-09, the part left her with enough time backstage over the course of the run to knit a coat. Last season she played in an elegant production of Richard II, but had even less to work with.

“It was lovely, but at the end I felt like I didn’t use my acting muscles enough. I wanted to have more of the lines,” Wold recalls.

“Careful what you wish for,” her director chimes in.

Shakespeare’s Will
Shakespeare & Company
Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
May 24-August 24

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Posted by Jeremy D. Goodwin on 05/19/14 at 08:43 PM • Permalink