SHOWING : June 02, 2011 - June 12, 2011
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
Double Falsehood is a tragicomedy thought to be based on Cervantes' Don Quixote. Full of over-dramatic action, cliffhangers, romance, betrayal, friendship and revenge... this is an action-packed story you're sure to enjoy!
First shown at London's Theatre Royal in 1727...
Last shown somewhere in Covent Garden in 1793...
Now popping up in theatres around the globe...
Join us for more history-makin'!
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
Friday, June 24, 2011 ||
In the official entries in the Revels Accounts of King James I of England, we find two items citing payment to John Heminges (actor and financial manager for the King’s Men, aka, Shakespeare’s company) for performances in 1613 before the court of a play entitled ”Cardenno” or “Cardenna.” Thus we have evidence that, at one time, there existed such a play, presumably penned by Shakespeare himself (probably in collaboration with John Fletcher), and lost to the ravages of history. Subsequent research suggested it was based on an episode (maybe two episodes) from Cervantes’ classic novel, Don Quixote, first published in England in 1612.|
Flash forward to 1727. English writer Lewis Theobald claims to have three separate manuscripts of what he claims are Restoration-era copies of the lost Shakespeare play, now commonly referred to as “Cardenio” (Cervantes’ character at its center). He does a snappy rewrite, calls it “Double Falsehood, or the Distrest Lovers,” and this play does survive. (To digress, there is another claimant to the “Cardenio” provenance, which I’ll discuss below -- one based on a single researcher’s 1994 book that I found compelling and convincing, even if the world of Shakespearean Literary analysis still does not.)
Leaving aside the Restoration disfavor of Shakespeare in general and Restoration bowdlerizations of his works in particular (think “Romeo and Juliet” with a happy ending), Theobald’s claim was always suspect. However, since his is the only version available, the Arden Shakespeare Library has decided to include his play in its “Complete Works” publications. Accordingly, in keeping with its current season pledge to produce ALL extant Shakespeareana, the Shakespeare Tavern has slapped together a quickie production of “Double Falsehood,” which truth to tell, bears nary a whiff of Stratford genius, but, in the very capable hands of the Tavern troupe, is a marvelously silly and entertaining diversion that had me giggling with glee for its entire running time.
Director Andrew Houchins made the absolutely brilliant choice of presenting this piece, not in the Tavern’s typical “original practice” Elizabethan style, but in an 18th-Century melodramatic, wink-to-the-audience style (and, yes, the villain does wear a black cape and sports twirlable moustache). It’s a style similar to Victorian Melodrama, who, truth to tell, were somewhat guilty of Shakespeare-disdain themselves – and isn’t it curious how eras that spurn the Bard leave a legacy of super-unrealistic, cliché-ridden, caricature-populated theatrical droppings?
Anyway, here’s the story. Julio is given a mission at court. In despair because this would separate him from his beloved Leonora, Julio enlists the aid of his friend Henriquez to watch over Leonora, ensuring some suitor does not steal her away. However, being the younger son of the Duke, Henriquez himself is, in Leonora’s father’s eyes, a more perfect suitor than the lower-born Julio, and a marriage is arranged, one that delights the dastardly Henriquez and horrifies the chaste and modest Leonora. Meanwhile, a girl of humble birth, Violante, has been seduced and abandoned by the same Henriquez. Act IV takes us to the country, where Julio is now wandering mad, Violante has disguised herself as a young boy shepherd, and Leonora has escaped a fate worse than death by entering a convent. In true 18th-century melodramatic fashion, everyone comes together for a rousing finish that exemplifies the triumph of virtue and the character-correcting virtues of forgiveness.
At the center of all this folderol is a comic gem of a performance by Kelly Criss as Leonora. Going mega-miles over the top with exaggerated emotion – Why be sad when one can WEEP? Why despair when one can SWOON? -- Ms. Criss’ performance cements her position as one of the leading comic actresses in the area, and one can only hope she’ll have job security as the Tavern’s new season stages all of Shakespeare’s comedies.
As Violante, Mary Russell has a lot less to do, but also turns in a beautifully funny turn. Take special note of her over-the-top panic as her shepherd’s disguise fools virtually no one. As Julio, Nicholas Faircloth also proves his comic chops, making our laughter sympathetic and his foolish choices seem excusable.
And, of course, special mention has to be made of Jonathan Horne, our villainous Henriquez, rollicking in the sheer delight of being mean and nasty, making each dastardly deed an occasion for lip-smacking relishment. On top of that, he makes the character’s final (sudden and contrived) conversion to virtue, well, almost believable.
Able support for all is provided by Tavern regulars Daniel Parvis, Matt Felten, Jacob York, Clarke Weigle, and Jeff Watkins. Costume and Lights by Anne Carole Butler and Mary Ruth Ralston are competent and compelling, and the whole thing is staged by Mr. Houchins at a breakneck pace that never lets us stop snickering long enough to realize how silly the whole thing is.
The quickie one-sheet program suggests a drinking game while watching this show – take a sip for every line you think Shakespeare composed. Well, when you put it that way, I daresay everyone who plays the game will leave the theatre stone cold sober. Let’s not forget, a typical Restoration “rewrite” will (first) remove any dialogue that smacks of poetry and (second) remove any subtlety of character or tragic circumstance. Taking Mr. Theobald’s claim at face value, even if he did posses the manuscripts he claims (and no one is on record as actually having seen them), they would still have been a Restoration revision of the original, so none of Shakespeare’s dialogue would remain, and only the bare bones of his story. It would be like someone claiming the screenplay for “Gnomeo and Juliet” deserves to be placed alongside others in the Bardic canon.
Which brings me to a last (and lengthy) digression about the other contender for the “Cardenio” provenance.
In 1994, forensic handwriting expert (and Shakespearean analyst) Charles Hamilton published a book in support of another anonymous Elizabethan manuscript as being the “lost” play – a revenge melodrama entitled “The Second Maiden’s Tragedy.” Based on early twentieth-century scholarship, this play has usually been attributed to Thomas Middleton, a contemporary (and rival) of Shakespeare during the early 1600’s, and Mr. Hamilton’s book failed to convince very many (even any) Middleton enthusiasts.
I, however, find his arguments compelling, nay even convincing, and I find the play itself the equal of the other Shakespeare/Fletcher collaborations (better, in fact, than the pompous and static “Henry VIII”). Mr. Hamilton’s makes many convincing arguments, with the following being the most compelling:
(1) The handwriting of the manuscript is exactly the same as that of Shakespeare’s final will (remember that Mr. Hamilton is an expert on Elizabethan handwriting), and carries the characteristics of an author’s manuscript rather than a clerk’s (or stage manager’s) “clean” copy.
(2) The censor’s note at the end, which calls the play “untitled” but describes it as “The Second Maiden’s Tragedy,” hence the name that has come down to us, carries a date that places its approval just prior to the production of “Cardenio” before the court.
(3) Fletcher was the author of “The Maiden’s Tragedy,” which the censor obviously knew when giving it that temporary name.
(4) The main plot and sub-plot of “The Second Maiden’s Tragedy” suggests the Cardenio episode of “Don Quixote” albeit with changed character names and completely different resolutions. The sub-plot is, in fact, (more or less) the plot of “Double Falsehood.”
(5) The play had to have been written before the English publication of “Don Quixote,” so, the playwright had to either have read Cervantes in galley form, or read the original Spanish edition. Fletcher was known to be fluent in Spanish, and Middleton was known to have not been.
But, as with “Double Falsehood,” the proof will be in the play. Mr. Hamilton makes some conjectures and analyses that SEEM to rule out Middleton as the author and SEEM to rule in Shakespeare and Fletcher, and even makes some fair conjectures as to why it was not included in the first folio (many of which have also been applied to “Pericles,” “Two Noble Kinsmen,” and “Edward III”). As to the play itself, I really like the depth of the characters and the beauty of the language, both of which seem to preclude Middleton as the author, but, truth to tell, my only guide is what Hamilton says about Middleton – I’ve never actually read any of his plays.
Still, to be sure, I’d like to see the Tavern (some day) produce “The Second Maiden’s Tragedy,” if nothing else to see a bit of necrophilia on stage (yes, the evil tyrant has his way with the Lady after her suicide with a sublimely just and ironic result – in this version EVERYONE dies!). I’d be even more interested to know the thoughts of actors who know Shakespeare so well – is this dialogue on a par with what they know? Literary types can sit in their ivory towers and count contractions and punctuation and neologisms and make conclusions no different than a statistics program, but those who live and breathe these words day after day will, to my mind, make a more convincing case.
In any case, “The Second Maiden’s Tragedy” would leave drinking-game participants reeling under the table where “Double Falsehood” leaves them unmoved.
But, to get off my English major digression and back on the show at hand, “Double Falsehood” (whatever its provenance) is a delightful silly exercise in a lost style (that should, truth to tell, probably stay lost). It’s great for this single exercise in theatrical resurrection, and, on this hot summer days, is a wonderful alternative to pretty much everything else.
Besides, what’s Shakespeare scholarship without a little exposure to Restoration bowdlerization?
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]