Double Falsehood

  • Our critic's rating:
    March 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall
    (21 Mar 2011)

    There is a lot of explanation that accompanies this production.

    Double Falsehood is now believed to be an adaptation of the long lost play Cardenia by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher that was rediscovered and adapted in the 18th Century by Lewis Theobald. The Times of London recently wrote, "For the most part of three centuries Double Falsehood has been ridiculed as a hoax. That all changed when the Arden Shakespeare, one of the best regarded scholarly editions of Shakespeare's works, endorsed its credentials and made it available."

    Long considered the "holy grail" of the Shakespeare canon, CSC will be the first professional theatre company to present this work since it was first remounted some 250 years ago. Double Falsehood has prompted a spirited debate, having been caned both "a piece of fraudulence" (Ron Rosenbaum, Slate Magazine) and "brilliant and unusual. The Bard's style and influence seem irrefutable." (The Observer)

    And that is just the press release. In the most recent mailer from CSC there are six pages of text on this subject.

    This is all well and good for historians, but in the end we are at the theatre to see a play and the question is, “No matter the provenance, does it work on the stage.”

    Well, sort of. What definitely works is the acting and the directing. The setting is that familiar Italian territory with a Duke, a Don, Fernardo, Leonora, Henrique – you get the picture. And we have the requisite cross-dressing as well as a man wandering alone in the woods after fortune spit on him.

    What we also have, however, is a daughter Leonora (Hayley Treider) and a victim Violante (Mackenzie Meehan) who seem to have spines made of that sterner stuff. These two women are dealt cards they don’t like and spend the better part of two hours going about thwarting the wishes of those who think they know better. In Leonora’s case, her lover Julio (Clayton Apgar) is sent off on Royal duties so that the Second Son of the Duke, Henriquez (Slate Holmgren), can make a move and claim her for his own. In addition to this falsehood, Henriquez adds another by seducing, raping and abandoning Violante. Between Leonora’s refusal and Violante’s revenge, Henriquez is pretty much cooked.

    This is an unusual and welcomed viewpoint for a story. And as I said the actors are more than first rate. In fact it is the actors and the director who pull the evening together because the text, while iambic is not idyllic. For some reason it falls a little flat overall, with the exception of Henriquez whose treachery is drawn and beautifully executed by Holmgren) with a fine pointed pen and to a nearly equal measure Leonora’s character. Perhaps I have seen one Shakespeare play too many, but I was never quite hooked into this story overall. And I wanted to be.

    I knew I was not connecting during the first scene, when my attention was drawn to a spider hanging by a thread of silk, upstage left. It was lit from above and looked like a tiny feather suspended in the air until it slowly retreated up into the rafters. There were a few false starts there as well and the poor thing had to start over again and again. But finally she made it.

    She did re-appear I am afraid and cascaded into the carpet where she was rolled up and carted off as the scene changed.

    The spider, Leonora and Violante had a lot in common: self determination, risk, independence; but the spider’s tale was the better told, and it is she about whom I am still thinking.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Brian Kulick's haunting modern-dress production certainly does justice to this play, whatever its provenance. It's fast-paced and beautifully performed."
    Frank Scheck for New York Post

    "The always adventurous Classic Stage Company, abjuring its usual star-studded casting, has done the drama no favors with Brian Kulick’s amateurish production."
    Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg

    "The production of a lost play by Shakespeare should be cause for rejoicing, but Classic Stage Company's mounting of "Double Falsehood" inspires nothing stronger than a shrug of the shoulders and an indifferent 'Meh.'"
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    New York Post - Bloomberg - Back Stage