Preview: ‘Mrs. Shakespeare Dishes the Dirt’
Better half of The Bard finally gets her say in world premiere production
If, as the theory goes, behind every great man stands a woman, there must have been one heck of a lady watching Shakespeare’s back. Now after 400 years of remaining silent it’s finally Anne Hathaway’s turn to tell the REAL story behind her husband’s success.
And what a tale she spins in “Mrs. Shakespeare Dishes the Dirt,” an original production that has its world premiere May 6 at the Cherry Hill Theatre in Canton.
“I’m not doing a biography of Ann Hathaway,” the author and star of the one-woman show, Gillian Eaton, told Curtain Calls recently while sipping on a Smoothie at a popular coffee house in downtown Plymouth. “That’s not the point. It’s a recounting of one week in Shakespeare’s life when his wife, on his thirtieth birthday, went to London to see him.”
Although the two had been married for about 12 years at that point in their lives, William’s carrier had kept them separated for the past eight.
“He had been living in London trying to make a living and sending bits of money home,” Eaton said. “Their marriage was not you know they had to get married, she was eight years older, there wasn’t much going on ”
So in Eaton’s fictional tale, Anne shows up in London not only to celebrate her husband’s birthday, but “to find out where the money is!”
And it’s during that week together that William gets the idea for every great play he’s going to write. “She’s his unwitting muse for that,” Eaton said.
The entire play, according to its creator, takes place in a four-poster bed where all of Shakespeare’s great plays are conceived. “It’s very funny.”
And wicked, as those familiar with the book that inspired Eaton to write her play can attest.
“I read Robert Nye’s book, ‘Mrs. Shakespeare: The Complete Works,’ knowing it was absolutely inadaptable in the state it was in. But there was something in it I loved it.”
So Eaton contacted the author, and after sending him several pages of her proposed adaptation, she was given the green light.
Now all she had to do was figure out a way around the book’s “hook” a concept that might not play well to conservative audiences.
“What happens during that week is she’s introduced to sodomy,” Eaton revealed.
Shakespeare, history recounts, had an eye for handsome young actors. So when Anne discovers he’d been writing sonnets to a young man and having an affair with him she asks, “What do you do with him?”
He shows her. She likes it. And they spend the week in bed together enjoying the great new sex they’re having.
“I can’t do that in my play, obviously,” Eaton laughed, “but what I can say is that they rediscovered each other. And that by coming back together and the lightning flash of passion that came out of her jealousy as well as sharing him with a man out of it comes this sort of conflict, this Dark Lady of the sonnets and the Young Man of the sonnets.”
In fact, Eaton stressed, that’s the point of her production.
“She’s the Dark Lady of the sonnets, and that this wonderful male-female tension throughout Shakespeare’s work is what makes him brilliant. This is what the female contribution was!”
She knows him well
“Mrs. Shakespeare” is not Eaton’s first brush with The Bard. On the contrary, she knows him well.
She obtained her degree in theater from England’s Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, followed by a two-year program of repertory theater. “It’s like massive, intense classical theater training in Britain,” she recalled. “We weren’t allowed to do any television and film.”
It was while working in the early 1970s with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the world tour of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that brought Eaton to America. It’s also where she met her husband, a Plymouth native. At the end of the tour she moved to California where she “had a couple of kids, did a lot of theater and [appeared in] small television and film stuff.”
Family matters brought them to Michigan in the mid-1990s. “It wasn’t a career choice to come here,” she chuckled.
What she discovered, however, were interesting challenges that she otherwise wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere.
“When I moved here I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do any theater, to be honest. There didn’t seem to be any! I sat on the arts council funding committee, and (a) there was no money, and (b) there was no theater. But I was wrong about that!”
Her first work was with John Neville Andrews and the Group Theatre at the University of Michigan, followed by a stint with the Detroit Historical Museum creating an outreach program called “Story Living.” The much-acclaimed production of “The Tempest” at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant in 1999 brought Eaton into the local spotlight.
Since then, she’s become one of the most in-demand directors in the state. Already this year she’s staged “Boston Marriage” at Performance Network Theatre and “Henry IV, Part I” at the Hilberry Theatre.
And about once a year, she polishes her acting skills with an appearance on stage.
For her upcoming role in “Mrs. Shakespeare,” Eaton has teamed with director Malcolm Tulip, a fellow Brit she’s worked with as both an actor and director. The set design is by Monika Essen, another frequent collaborator. It will be a multimedia presentation, Eaton said, with “buckets of images and metaphors around.”
The 90-minute romp through Shakespeare’s life promises to be a lot of fun, even for those who are not very familiar with The Bard’s work. And it’s a story with which many can identify.
“It’s just about a woman in her middle age trying to come to terms with whether her marriage was successful or not,” Eaton concluded. “It’s funny. It’s witty. It’s delicious. And the seats are very comfortable in that theater!”