The not-so-merry wives of Stratford

Judith's Story

By Betty Jane Isquith
Directed by Barbara Pitcher
The American Theatre of Actors
314 W. 54th St. (581-3044)
Non-union production (closes April 29)
Review by Julie Halpern

Judith's Story reveals details of the life of William Shakespeare as might be perceived through the eyes of his younger daughter, Judith. Forced into marrying a pregnant Anne Hathaway at eighteen, William was hardly ready for marriage or fatherhood, and his relationship with the illiterate, parochial Anne was difficult, deteriorating further after the death of Judith's twin brother, Hamnet. 

Judith's older sister, Susanna, was literate, docile, and for the most part avoided her father's abuse, but ungainly, willful Judith bore the brunt of both parents' unhappiness. Anne kept her younger daughter illiterate to control her, and William resented the fact that Judith was alive instead of her brother - frequently telling her that the wrong twin died. Passionate and intuitive, she was indeed her father's daughter. Crushed and totally lacking in self-esteem, at 30 Judith marries her father's dishonest business manager, giving up the chance to marry an earl. Upon her father's death, Judith meets the women who had impact on his life - some mistresses, others trusted friends - and, although her own relationship with him was painful, she is grateful that he was able to find the love and understanding that her mother was unable to offer.

Isquith's play is full of strong, beautifully drawn roles for women, and director Barbara Pitcher had the luxury of a strong cast, even in minor roles. Pitcher's dedication to the project was evident in the high level of performances throughout. Jacqueline Bowman was a passionate whirlwind as Judith, in a grounded, totally committed performance. Jill Alexander expertly handled the complex role of Anne Hathaway, fearlessly exposing every unattractive quality of her character, in a superb performance. Michael Dale was a handsome, erotic bundle of energy in the role of the Bard in his early years, but was unable to capture the monumentality of Shakespeare's genius as a mature man. William Greville as Dr. Hall contributed a focused, understated portrayal as Anne's confidant, and later as Shakespeare's son-in-law, but a little more passion might have been in order, since the good doctor was, after all, recently wed to the much younger Susanna. Christopher Sutherland captured the vacuous essence of Thomas Quiney, Judith's ne'er-do-well husband. Jennifer Anderson was radiant in the brief role of Susanna, and Epiphany Alexander was a delight in her touching portrayal of Judith as a child.

Samantha Coughlan as Mary Fitton, Deborah Moore as Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, Julie Wallach as Anne Whately, Rachel Lundgren as Jane Davenant, and Karen Landis as the Countess of Pembroke all contributed exceptionally strong support as the influential women in Shakespeare's life.

Lynn Kimmel's sumptious Elizabethan costumes looked very well on the attractive cast. Laura Sheets's set design was spare but effective, with colorful touches, such as the green feather on Shakespeare's coffin. Lovely Elizabethan tunes (uncredited) created a comforting ambience, but the lights (also uncredited) left actors at the back of the stage in darkness.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern