Classic Stage Company’s Double Falsehood (2011)
If I were to be given sufficient funds to put on a production of Lewis Theobald’s Double Falshood; or, The Distrest Lovers, I would do whatever I could to mount it uncut, with slots and painted backdrops, tricornes, ribbons, and knee-breeches, and whatever else was possible to transport the audience back to Drury Lane in 1727, partly, I confess, because my general notions of doing classic theatre run that way, but especially because of the peculiar place of Double Falshood vis-à-vis the Shakespeare canon. At the present date, this is a play that desperately needs a chance to be met by audiences on its own terms. For
Double Falshood was introduced as a lost play by Shakespeare, rewritten (as so many of Shakespeare’s undoubted plays were) for the Augustan taste. It might have been forgotten as the forgery that Alexander Pope accused it of being (but he had personal reasons to hate Theobald, for the latter had exposed him as an unscientific and slovenly editor of the Bard), had not proof turned up in later years that there was an actual missing play, Cardenio, based on the right source material (an episode in
Don Quixote, albeit one written by Shakespeare in collaboration with John Fletcher, rather than one written by Shakespeare alone.
N.N.’s production by New York’s Classic Stage Company, which opened March 12th, 2011, at their theater at 136 East 13th St. is not, alas, my dream production. It is set in a vaguely 20th-century abstract world strangely dominated by throw rugs, which the cast members keep rearranging so as to fall into pools of light skillfully arranged by lighting designer N.N. Although most of the text is present, including, surprisingly, the original prologue, two scenes that are not in the original are presented in mime, the song
Woods, rocks, and mountains, thought by many to be from the lost Cardenio, is included, though
Fond Echo! forego thy light Strain, from Double Falshood, is not, and one major role, Camillo, the hero’s father, is reduced to a single scene, because the actor, N.N., is busy playing other roles. Furthermore, most of the comedy is has been deleted.
Yet I come not to bury this production, but to praise it. I have seen, as of Saturday night, four plays calling themselves by some form of
Double Falsehood in the last five years, and this one is by far my favorite.