By William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and Lewis Theobald
Directed by Andrew Borthwick-Leslie
Produced by Letter of Marque Theater Company
Off Off Broadway, Classic Play
Runs through 4.9.16
The Irondale Center, 85 South Oxford Street
by Sarah Weber on 3.19.16
Poppy Liu in Double Falsehood. Photo by Amanda Hinkle.
BOTTOM LINE: Amidst contemporary debates over rape culture and victim shaming, Double Falsehood holds up a mirror to show just how little we’ve changed over history.
Though this production of Double Falsehood’s primarily billed as Shakespeare’s piece, its origin story is far more complicated and often disputed. It might have been co-authored by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, or Lewis Theobald wrote Double Falsehood based on the lost Shakespeare/Fletcher play Cardenio…or Theobald made up the association all together it’s purely an 18th century creation. Whatever the true story, Letter of Marque Theater Company has bestowed upon New York a wondrous staging of a classic about love, friendship, and the rippling consequences of betrayal.
The play opens with The Duke (Nolan Kennedy) hatching a plot with his elder son Roderick (Welland H. Scripps) – the younger son Henriquez (Adam Huff) is not exactly a pinnacle of honorable behavior. So, in an effort to keep an eye on Henriquez, the Duke wishes to mold his troublesome son’s best friend, Julio (Zach Libresco) into a spy. They invite Julio to court right before he’s able to finalize his plans to marry Leonora (Montana Lampert Hoover)—both of their fathers need to consent to the marriage first. Meanwhile, we meet Henriquez while he’s trying to woo Violante (Poppy Liu). After Violante rejects his many advances, Henriquez forces himself on her. Despite his proclamations of guilt, it takes no time for Henriquez to scheme how he can marry Leonora while Julio is away. Thus characters’ unravelling—Julio and Leonora try to keep their marriage plans intact, Violante plans her revenge, Roderick tries to piece together the damage his brother has left behind, and Henriquez still tries to have his cake and eat it, too.
Between clever direction and an outstanding cast, Double Falsehood is an absorbing piece. Every actor is so fully immersed in their characters you have no choice but to watch every little detail. Libresco convincingly maintains the disposition of a gushing romantic even in Julio’s most defeated moments, and Huff portrays Henriquez’s selfishness so well even the character’s sincerest moments feel contrived.
In a play that bluntly addresses rape culture, victim shaming, and society’s ugly obsession with female purity, Hoover and Liu’s performances were beyond empowering. Hoover’s tenacity shines through as the outspoken and bold Leonora—I loved the moment when she contests her father’s approval of Henriquez’s proposal. Liu’s performance blew me away entirely. The nuance with which she juggles multiple emotions at once is staggering. A couple of scenes after Violante’s rape, she delivers a monologue wherein we watch every possible reaction—horror, shame, rage, isolation, fear, desperation, sometimes all together—pour over Liu’s entire body. I wanted to scream with her.
Illustrating the play’s disputed origins, both Steven Brenman’s scenic design and Clair Townsend’s costume design evokes a patchwork of time periods. The movable wall pieces are bedecked with picture frames, each showcasing designs from different artistic movements. Meanwhile, Townsend’s costume pieces range from high top sneakers to 18th century panniers. Some choices seemed out of place, but overall I loved the world Brenman and Townsend created. They managed to show timelessness while also keeping the play grounded in its classic roots.
And, of course, Andrew Borthwick-Leslie’s direction is spot on. He brilliantly uses space to show how Double Falsehood devolves into chaos, then collects itself into a similar (though not exact) normalcy as the beginning. Violante, Leonora, and Julio are finally exact varying extents of revenge on Henriquez, but they will never be the same after his many betrayals. The momentum did slow towards the end. (I began wondering if the final scene had an ending.) But the writing may be partially to blame. Keeping pace when a scene consists of monologue after monologue after monologue draped with exposition is no small challenge.
If you want to see how a centuries-old play contributes to contemporary feminist discourse, or you simply have a penchant for classics, please go see Double Falsehood. Or, at the very least, check out Letter of Marque Theater Company’s website to learn about future projects and programs. If Double Falsehood is any indication, they do amazing work. I’ll definitely keep them on my radar.
(Double Falsehood plays at The Irondale Center at 85 South Oxford Street through April 9, 2016. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30; and Monday, March 14 at 12:00. There are talkbacks after the show every Wednesday and panel discussions every Saturday at 6:30. Tickets are free online; $20 at the door; VIP tickets are $50. Tickets are available at lomtheater.org)
Double Falsehood is written by William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and Lewis Theobald. Directed by Andrew Borthwick-Leslie. Production Manager is Libby Jenson. Company Manager is Karen Ng. Technical Director is Marek Pavlovski. Scenic and Prop Design by Steven Brenman. Costume Design by Claire Townsend. Assistant Costume Designer and Stitcher is Laura Catignani. Lighting Design by Joe Doran. Music Direction by Nolan Kennedy. Fight Direction by Michael C. Toomey. Vocal Coach is Corinna May. Dramaturg is Lynde Rosario. Installation Artist is Jared Deery. Master Electrician is Gustavo Valdes. Stage Manager is Andrea Wales. The assistant Stage Manager is Lilly Deerwater
The cast is Ariel Estrada, Tom Giordano, Adam Huff, Nolan Kennedy, Montana Lampert Hoover, Zach Libresco, Poppy Liu, Scarlet Maressa Rivera, and Welland H. Scripps.