Theater Review: The Bard says little from beyond the grave
Shakespeare’s life and literature have inspired a multitude of exceptional films, books and plays over the years. Sadly, The Country Playhouse’s production of Susanna ‘ Will is not among them.
Written by Diana Howie, the two-act-play focuses on two conversations, years apart, between Susanna Hall (Maria O. Sirgo) and her father, William Shakespeare (John Kaiser). There is a twist, however: Shakespeare is dead.
When visiting the gravesite of her parents to show off her recently purchased copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Hall’s reading of excerpts somehow conjures up her father from beyond the grave.
Their discussion touches on a variety of memories, happenings, and unanswered questions from their lives, but the motivations of Susanna are never quite clear.
At first she seems angry with her mother for the condemnation of her father’s career choices and hypocritical behavior. When Shakespeare’s spirit appears, Susanna’s attention turns toward her father, on whom she places blame for the way their family fell apart in his absence.
As father and daughter share their different points of view, they seem to come to an understanding, though Susanna’s issues with her mother are never resolved. In a particularly heated exchange, she accuses her mother of murdering her brother Hamnet, while her mother claims he had simply been a victim of the plague.
This entire scenario comes out of nowhere without a clear frame of reference, and one is left to wonder if Anne, who never appears onstage, did indeed murder her son to hide an adulterous affair which he had discovered or if Susanna simply had an overactive, paranoid imagination.
Susanna’s second visitation from her father comes two decades later. This time their conversation revolves around current events (an English civil war) and Susanna’s current predicament of hiding her Complete Works of William Shakespeare inside the local church to prevent it from falling into Puritan hands as they would be sure to burn it for heresy.
While the acting of Sirgo as Susanna and Kaiser as Shakespeare is entertaining and impressive, the story doesn’t give them any support, no matter how enjoyable the performances may be. Furthermore, the plot fails to find a true focus and draw the audience in.
Susanna ‘ Will attempts the telling of many stories, but in doing so succeeds at telling none of them. The strongest of these is the reconciliation between parent and child, but even that angle leaves the audience unsatisfied with the lack of resolution between Susanna and her mother. Expanding the character list to include the spirit of Anne Shakespeare might have allowed for such resolution and made for a clearer, more rewarding narrative.
Since the play is littered with references to Shakespeare’s famous works and notable events and movements of the time period, literature and history buffs alike may enjoy these aspects of the program. The accuracy of the recreation of Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church’s interior is also admirable, right down to Shakespeare’s funerary monument featured prominently on the wall.
Susanna ‘ Will will run at the Country Playhouse through April 19. Tickets are available for purchase at www.countryplayhouse.org or by calling the Country Playhouse Box Office at 713-467-4497.