Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Double Falsehood" - Interesting But Uneven

Review by Judd Hollander
Photos by Joan Marcus

True Shakespeare devotees will rush to see the production of Double Falsehood at Classic Stage Company for its pedigree, the play being an adaptation of a lost work of the Bard, but there is often not much more to recommend.

Double Falsehood is Lewis Theobald's 18th century adaptation of the lost work Cardenio, a play now widely believed to have been penned by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. While perhaps not a pure Shakespearean work, per se, as there were probably several other people who adapted the play before Theobald got hold of it, as explained in the program notes, one can certainly see elements of Shakespeare's style and dialogue throughout. Indeed, the first few lines of the show are a sort of homage to Shakespeare. As for the play itself, there are problems throughout with various themes and story efforts that don't quite fit together.

As the play opens, the Duke (Philip Goodwin) is worried about his ner-do-well son Henriquez (Slate Holmgren), who seems to be more concerned about pleasures of the flesh, than learning reason. A fear which soon proves to be not without merit. For when we are first introduced to Henriquez, we see this way too self-assured fellow trying hard to woo the lovely Violante (Mackenzie Meehan). However after being rebuffed, Violante being quite aware of Henriquez's unsavory reputation, he brutally wrongs her for his own base pleasures and satisfaction.

Soon after this incident Henriquez does actually seem to fall in love, his object of desire being the beautiful Leonora (Hayley Treider). However Leonora is in love with another, that being young Julio (Clayton Apgar), to whom Lenora's father Don Bernardo (Jon Devries), has happily given his consent. Julio also happens to be a close friend of Henriquez. But when Julio takes too long in getting his own father's permission to marry, and is also ordered away to court, Don Bernardo reneges on his promise and gives Leonora to the eager and lasciviously waiting Henriquez. This sudden turn of events forces Lenora to take matters into her own hands, but not before Julio insets himself into the situation, despite Lenora's urgent warning for him not to do so.

When the dust settles, Julio has fled to the wilds of the mountains and Lenora has enclosed herself in the sanctuary of an abbey. This doesn't stop Henriquez who, enlisting the aid of his kind and true brother Roderick (Bryce Gill), concocts a scheme which would restore Lenora to him. Though when Roderick begins to get wise to what's going on, he plots a strategy to set things right, but only for those who deserve it. Appearing with a plan of her own is Violante, who has come to find Henriquez and make him acknowledge his wrongs against her.

The Bard's presence is evident is throughout the script, with elements of such works as King Lear, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet popping up throughout this story. Unfortunately they all combine to give the production a sort of rehashed air and diluted final project. Written late in Shakespeare's career, one might say this would belong in his "Romance" period, as the play ultimately focuses on the themes of forgiveness and moving forward. Yet the feeling of "too many hands" in the plot gives the Double Falsehood a sort of meandering air rather than any firm direction.

Characterization is also a problem, with those populating the story never quite feeling fully formed and without any real depth. Henriquez is by far the most interesting of the group, with the potential to have become one of Shakespeare's most devilish villains. His speech, masterfully delivered by Holmgren, where Henriquez convinces himself without too much trouble about the righteousness of his actions against Violante, brilliantly lays out the flaws of the character for all to see. Yet a later scene where he is supposed to undergo a catharsis doesn't ring true. Plus, the final solution to Henriquez's situation feels like someone has taken the original idea and given it a twist to make it more palatable to the audiences of the Restoration era (a situation that's also addressed in the program notes).

Treider and Meehan are decent enough in their roles, but only that and one feels the actresses' potential is hamstrung by the limitations of the text; neither able to make their characters stand out. The same holds true for Gill's take on Roderick. He's an interesting character, but too one-dimensional to really hit home. Goodwin does lend a strong air of authenticity as the Duke, and Apgar is nicely idealistic as Julio.

Brian Kulick's direction is okay, given what he has to work with, and the show moves quickly enough. Sometimes it actually moves too quickly, with not enough time given to really delve into just who these characters are and how they find themselves in certain situations. There are several transitions that are somewhat jarring, including between acts one and two, with the feeling that something, a few speeches at least, have been cut somewhere along the way,

The set by Oana Botez-Ban, basically a series of ornamental rugs draped about the stage which are moved to suggest changes in time or location, works fine. (One audience member said they reminded him of ABC Carpets. I said it was more like QVC.) Lighting by Brian H. Scott is adequate, as are Botez-Ban's costumes.

Double Falsehood is an interesting and curious piece. Yet one has to shift through a lot of upper layers to find the Shakespeare imprint and what is finally there is more probably suited to a classroom discussion than a fully-staged play.

Double Falsehood
By William Shakespeare and John Fletcher
Adapted by Lewis Theobald
Directed by Brian Kulick
Scenic and Costume Design: Oana Botez-Ban
Lighting Designer: Brian H. Scott
Original Music and Sound Design: Christian Frederickson
Assistant State Manager: Kelly Ice

With: Bryce Gill (Roderick/Citizen/Shepherd), Philip Goodwin (Duke/Camillo/Shepherd), Clayton Apgar (Julio), Hayley Treider (Leonora), Jon Devries (Don Bernardo), Slate Holmgren (Henriquez), Mackenzie Meehan (Violante)

Classic State Company
136 East 13th Street
Tickets: (866) 811-4111 or
Subway Info: Take the L train to 3rd Avenue or the W, N, R, 4,5,6 train to Union Square
Running Time: Two Hours

Closed: April 3, 2011

No comments: