The pool of water inside the church is enticing. It’s a different kind of prop used for this play – “Shakespeare’s Will.”
Quantum Theatre founder and director Karla Boos has transformed West Homestead United Methodist Church, on Eighth Avenue in Homestead, to host Canadian writer Vern Thiessen’s poetic and modern play. The play gives voice to Anne Hathaway, the enigmatic wife of William Shakespeare.
“The symbol of water is throughout the script,” Boos said. When creating the set, designer Stephanie Mayer-Staley made paper waves out of copies of Shakespeare’s will and presented them in a wave design on the back wall. His signature is on the paperwork. The color of the paper fades symbolizing memory that fades, she said.
“I was inspired by the water and so the design takes a cue from the water,” Mayer-Staley said.
Boos said she chooses venues that reflect Pittsburgh’s character, history and architecture. They have ranged from a monumental blast furnace, grand museum, an abandoned industrial site, a modern office tower, a beloved city lake and, in this case, a waterless indoor swimming pool.
Very few facts are known about William Shakespeare’s wife, but he remained married to her until his death. In his oddly-specific will bequeathed the house in which Anne Hathaway had lived and reared their family to his sister. To Hathaway, he left “my second-best bed,” as quoted by Quantum in a release.
The play shows Hathaway in the moments after his funeral, giving her a full-throated voice and every emotional color imaginable, putting her at the center of her own story instead of relegating her to a footnote in Shakespeare’s.
The church provides a cozy and intimate setting that references the contested house in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Water figures heavily in both the most cherished and the bitterest of Anne’s memories, and inspires the design team, Boos said.
The location will continue to be used as a church for worship in between shows, which open Friday.
“It’s a really cool space,” said Boos, who this year staged “Looking for Violeta” at the Frick Park Lawn Bowling Greens in Point Breeze and “King Lear” at the Carrie Furnace in Rankin.
The church seats a little more than 100 guests. The show is 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Shakespeare’s funeral was at a church so this is perfect,” said director Melanie Dreyer, who’s chair for the Department of Drama at the University of Alberta. “As for the water, water is ironically connected and rooted in our humanness.”
Sheila McKenna, who portrays Hathaway, brings an understated ferocity to this intriguing character, and offers a look inside her life.
There is an exploration of feminist themes which might resonant in today’s #Me Too movement.
Joining McKenna is Simon Nigam, who plays Hathaway’s son, Hamnet, who drowned tragically at a young age.
McKenna said this is a typical Quantum performance. “It’s something people haven’t seen before,” McKenna said. “I love Shakespeare and I am excited for this opportunity to collaborate with women I admire. The play is a piece of art that has a timelessness to it. It explores pro-feminist themes.”
Opening night is 8 p.m. Friday. Performances are 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Sundays at 7 p.m.
There is no show on Nov. 12 or 28. There is also a 3 p.m. show Nov. 30.
Tickets are $38-$55. There will be a post-show Q&A session on Nov. 10, a pre-show reception on Nov. 13 and a pre-show wine tasting event on Nov. 14. On Nov. 23, there will be a post-show discussion of the psychology of the characters with Dr. Manuel Reich, a local psychiatrist from Squirrel Hill, who has worked at the department of psychiatry at Pitt and is medical director at Highmark with a private practice in Shadyside. His passion for the theater came from his mother, a retired piano teacher and his father, an amateur comedian who took him to see “Fiddler on the Roof” for his bar mitzvah.