A rumored connection to Shakespeare’s the thing here — not the play.
Is Double Falsehood based on a play Shakespeare wrote* in collaboration with John Fletcher,* that has come down to us through an 18th-century adaptation by Lewis Theobald? Classic Stage would like us to entertain that possibility. It’s worthy to examine Shakespearean controversies but — theater is theater and this is not a good play. And there’s nothing of Shakespeare to experience in it.
In Valencia, Spain, Roderick, the older son of the Duke is dutiful and responsible while the younger brother, Henriquez, is a rake. Henriquez, out of town, sends Julio to collect money from the Duke and, having gotten his good friend out of the way, proceeds to woo Julio’s beloved, the well-born Leonora. Attracted at the same time (“double falsehood”) to virtuous, lower class Violante, he rapes her onstage (Shakespeare?). Leonora’s father tries to force her to marry Henriquez, and Julio, returning in time to interfere with the wedding, is bested in a fight by Henriquez (?) and sent on his way, while Leonora faints and her father discovers her suicide note in response to the hateful wedding prospect.
Julio becomes crazy, ranting in the wilds and stealing food from shepherds, while Violante, disguised as a boy, is servant to a shepherd who, realizing she’s female, threatens her sexually, though she’s spared by the arrival of Roderick. He’s there though, actually, to help Henriquez steal Leonora from her refuge nunnery (and Roderick’s the good brother ?). He speaks about honorable action but (with inconsistency, not complexity of character) we see him collaborating with Henriquez to violently abduct Leonora. Somehow, though (somehow?) they all arrive back at the ducal palace where Julio is reunited with Leonora, and so is Henriquez with Violante who, we understand, is about to marry her rapist (?). I felt sorry for the actress, Mackenzie Meehan as Violante, who had to stand there and make that look like something having to do with Shakespeare. There’s no girl for Roderick, even though he’s the first born and his father’s heir (?).
The characters are thin conventions; the only one with any interest is Henriquez because he’s nasty, and played with vigor by Slate Holmgren, though Henriquez lacks the depth of characterization of Edmund in Lear : he’s melodramatic rather than driven. As questioned (?) above, and commented on by others,* several plot turns seem not only un-Shakespearean but anachronistic. But what makes the play particularly dull to sit through is the language, flat, cliched and without metaphoric inventiveness.
The best thing about the production of Double Falsehood are the quotations from an interview with Jorge Luise Borges that Brian Kulick, the passionately committed and talented Artistic Director of Classic Stage, includes in his introductory essay to the play — nothing like close contact with a fine writer like Borges. But there’s no contact with Shakespeare in Double Falsehood — close or distant. That one can point to crossed loves and girls dressing as boys and the fast changes of fortune — well, that’s pretty general.
* For a discussion of texts Theobald may or may not have had in hand that may or may not have related to Shakespeare in writing what Theobald claimed was his adaptation of a play he said was written collaboratively by Shakespeare and Fletcher, based on the story of Cardenio in Don Quixote, places to start are: Classic Stage’s introductory brochure, and the entries with bibliographies on Double Falsehood in Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia — the Wikipedia article in its skepticism of the link to Shakespeare is very amusing.
Double Falsehood plays at Classic Stage Company in NYC’s East Village through April 3.