“I was never the same man twice,” Shakespeare laments. By play’s end, we come to realize how very true this is. The Last Will opens with Shakespeare’s not so triumphant return to Stratford-upon-Avon after the destruction of his beloved Globe Theatre. His wife, Anne, greets him with mixed feelings. She’s thrilled that he’s finally returned, but angered by his twenty-seven year absence, an absence that caused him to miss the burial of Hamnet, his only son.
Will has not returned alone. Richard Burbage, a famed London actor, has trailed after him, filled with dreams of rebuilding the Globe and publishing Shakespeare’s plays. Much younger than Will’s 48 years, Burbage drinks much, speaks grandly, and attempts to keep the bard well within his mind, which is proving to be a difficult task. Shakespeare, ravaged by disease, is losing his mind piece by piece. He confuses his family with his characters and believes his wife to be sleeping with his own brother. In a fit of rage, he amends his will, leaving Anne with the bare minimum. Judith, his once favorite daughter, befalls a similar fate to her mother when she becomes in engaged to a man Will does not approve of. Susanna, the heretic, black sheep of the family, becomes the sole beneficiary of her father’s belongings; though the secrets she’s hiding could very well ruin the family if exposed.
The Last Will is all at once frightening, eye-opening, and endearing. Austin Pendleton’s Shakespeare is stunning in its complexity, so much so that the audience seems to go mad along with him. Stephanie Roth Haberle’s Anne Hathaway is brutally honest, and Jeremiah Kissel’s Richard Burbage is fantastically spirited. Merrit Janson and Christianna Nelson thrill as Will’s daughters, and David Wohl skillfully plays a lawyer with a bit too much on his mind. Betrayal, madness, and secrets run amok in Robert Brunstein’s The Last Will. The show runs until May 5 at the Abington Theatre Company.