nytheatre.com review by Di Jayawickrema
March 20, 2011
According to Classic Stage Company's newsletter, when CSC artistic director Brian Kulick bumped into Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro on the street and asked whether he believed Double Falsehood is definitively based on a long-lost Shakespeare play, Shapiro replied:
See this street? Underneath this street is another street and underneath that street is cobblestone and underneath the cobblestone: Dirt. It’s the same thing with this play…There’s Theobald’s adaptation, underneath that is probably Betterton’s prompter’s adaptation, and underneath that Davenant’s and underneath Davenant’s: Shakespeare.
It is in this spirit of the collaborative continuity of theatre that CSC presents their new staging of the 18th century Lewis Theobold adaptation, Double Falsehood, which many scholars now consider a redacted version of the vanished Cardenio by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Although almost certainly bearing the memory of Shakespeare, the strength of this representation is not in the old writing but the new staging and neat production.
Cardenio was performed in the 1612-1613 season on the Elizabethan stage after which it passed out of memory until 1727 when Lewis Theobald, an avid Shakespeare editor, presented Double Falsehood to a stunned public as a heretofore unheard-of Shakespeare manuscript he had mysteriously acquired and adapted. As director of the current production, Kulick subtly pays homage to this history of shifting theatrical layers by innovatively angling and overlapping beautiful Persian rugs across the stage before each scene. Carpets also hang in layers along the wall of the lovely open space and are lit with restrained artistry by Brian H. Scott. Christian Frederickson’s subtle use of musical tones accompanies each change of lighting, mood, and scene. The overall production effect is of quiet excellence, which I can’t say unequivocally is matched by the text. While similar in tone and plot to Shakespeare, whatever changes adapters have made to the manuscript over the centuries have stripped it of a great deal of the layered meaning of Shakespearean language, pathos, and especially humor. The witticisms Double Falsehood presents as its crowning glories are ones Shakespeare would likely have carelessly dropped from his pen on his way to better jokes.
The plot is one of two lovers, Julio and Leonara, played by Clayton Apgar and Hayley Treider, who are separated by the will of their fathers. While Julio is away at court, he entrusts his affianced to the care of his friend, Henriquez (Slate Holmgren). The fickle and pernicious Henriquez uses and abandons his former flame, Violante, played movingly by Mackenzie Meehan, for Leonara, who wants none of him. Meanwhile, Violante dresses as a boy to pursue her former suitor for her honor’s sake.
These familiar star-crossed, cross-dressing, double-crossing plot machinations are relatively engaging and competently delivered by the cast, but suffer in comparison to true Shakespearean use of the same elements. Nonetheless, the overall tone of the production makes this a not unworthy piece of classic theatre.