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  March 22, 2004

Playwright Sees CRT Production Of One Of His Early Works

William Gibson first saw his play A Cry of Players in Stockbridge, Mass., in 1968. He saw it again at Lincoln Center in New York City in 1970. And he hadn't seen it since - until a recent Sunday in Storrs.

The Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) production of Gibson's play about the early life of William Shakespeare closed March 7 and Gibson was there for the final performance.

Image: Tabitha McKown and William Gibson

Playwright William Gibson chats with Tabitha McKown, a third-year student in the MFA acting program, who performed in a production of his work, A Cry of Players. The two, and director Gary English, will collaborate again in the summer on Gibson's masterwork, The Miracle Worker.

Photo by supplied by CRT

"I wrote this play in 1947 in Topeka, Kansas, then rewrote it when we did it 10 years later in Stockbridge, and then saw it with Frank Langella and Anne Bancroft at Lincoln Center. So, I was interested to see it again all these years later," said Gibson.

Little is known of Shakespeare's life as a young man, other than that he married Anne Hathaway when he was 17 and she was 25 and they had three children. When he was 28 he was living in London and working as an actor and playwright. His wife and children, however, remained in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Gibson's play fills in the rest. It is a fictional account of the struggle Shakespeare faced in choosing between his calling as an artist and his obligations to his family. A Cry of Players offers an account of the agonizing decisions the young Shakespeare may have faced, given his prodigious talent and ambition, while living in a poor, rural community. When the flamboyant traveling "players" arrive in town, Shakespeare's artistic passions are aroused - in direct conflict with his obligations as father, husband, and provider.

In the CRT production, Shakespeare was played by UConn undergraduate acting student Reilly Hadden; Tabitha McKown, a third-year student in UConn's MFA acting program, played the part of Anne Hathaway.

McKown has worked with Gibson before. Last summer, Gary English, artistic director of CRT and head of the dramatic arts department at UConn, directed another of Gibson's plays, American Primitive - the story of John and Abigail Adams - at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Mass. He cast McKown as Abigail. Since then, Gibson, English, and McKown have formed a close, three-way artistic partnership.

They will team up again in the next major regional theatre production of Gibson's master work, The Miracle Worker, featuring McKown in the role of Annie Sullivan. The play tells the story of how, as a young girl, deaf and blind Helen Keller was reached by her persistent teacher, Annie Sullivan.

Said English, "It's really extraordinary for a director, actress, and playwright to work this closely, and so successfully, on three plays in a row. Bill's wonderful writing and Tabitha's talent as an actress have made working together on these shows an absolute delight."

McKown will not be the only UConn theatre student working at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. UConn's most outstanding theatre students, including actors, designers, administrators and technicians, will join the Berkshire Theatre Festival company each summer.