Coeurage Theatre Company Gambles on Double Falsehood

Valorie Curry and Jeremy Lelliott

When Arden added Double Falsehood to its most recently published edition of Shakespeare’s Collected Works, it fueled the fire of a long running argument about the play’s authorship. Was it really a long lost play written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher as Lewis Theobald claimed or was it merely a fraud? Since no copies of the original manuscript exist, we may never know for certain however pundits and literary scholars on both sides of the debate are passionate about their opinions.

On September 30, coeurage theatre company will step into the conversation when they open their production of Double Falsehood at The Actors Circle Theatre in Hollywood. Though the debate has gone on for almost three hundred years, the company didn’t choose the play simply because it was controversial.

According to artistic director Jeremy Lelliott, “When the story broke about a year and a half ago that Arden had found two passages in Double Falsehood that stood up to the Shakespeare test, it was strong enough evidence for them to include it in their Shakespeare collection. That story fascinated me so I read the play. It wasn’t as controversial then as it’s become now and when I read it I instantly wanted coeurage to do it.”

When asked how coeurage feels about the authorship of the play Lelliott says, “We back the perspective of Arden, which is that Shakespeare and Fletcher wrote a Cardenio play (that much is not really debated), and Lewis Theobald assembled the three manuscripts he claimed to have found in various states of completion, into something that could be produced. Arden’s stance is that Shakespeare is generally responsible for the first two and a half acts, Fletcher is generally responsible for the second two and a half acts, though they possibly both contributed to the entire play, and then there are some adaptations of the text from Theobald.

He adds, “Of course there are those that declare the entire text a fake but even their opinions contradict each other. One argument is that Double Falsehood is a forgery that Theobald wrote. The objection to that is it’s pretty clear which sections of the play he did write or adapt because there is a clumsiness to the writing in those passages. In his time Lewis Theobald was a failed playwright, a failed actor, a failed director, critic and translator, so I find the idea that he could have written this play by himself absurd.”

The story is based on a tale from Cervantes’ Don Quixote and follows Henriquez, the son of a Duke and traveling libertine who wreaks havoc on a small community. Impulsively, he not only rapes a young woman, Violante, but also schemes to get his best friend, Julio, out of the way so he can woo Julio’s fiancé, Leonora, to be his wife. It is a story full of passion, grief, and madness in the wilds of the countryside.

“Artistically, it was very appealing to me,” says Lelliott, “because even though the central figure’s actions are revolting and villainous, none of his soliloquies are Richard III-like at all. They’re all very crisis of conscience. He does horrible things but feels really conflicted about them. It’s such a different spin on that kind of anti-hero character and that’s what drew me in.”

The other big draw for Lelliott was how to handle the misogyny in the play because it doesn’t always treat women well. “Tackling that issue is tricky. How do you take a piece that’s shifting into the Jacobean era and interpret it as a comedy, especially when you have a woman who gets raped who has to marry her rapist? Contextualizing that for a modern audience and bringing our own feminist perspective to the play, while still honoring the text, was another reason to produce it.”

Kirsten Kuiken directs the cast of nine, made up of four coeurage company members and five outside actors, and as the group worked its way through rehearsals they made a lot of discoveries.

“The first time we read the text out loud you could hear the flaws and see which parts would be most difficult to stage. Our challenge instantly became how to address these sections that (a). Don’t hold up for a modern audience or (b). Are kind of clumsy or awkward because it’s a flawed piece and there are holes in it. In fact, I believe that this may have been done as a writing exercise between mentor and protégé, and even though it was produced in Shakespeare’s time, I’m not sure it was ever really intended to be a produced play.

But then, once we got past those awkward bits, we would stumble upon these really beautiful passages and this is where I gain confidence in Shakespeare’s hand in it. There are sections that are profound and dark and really well-crafted and when we can unlock those it reinvigorates the play for us. That’s doubly exciting because oftentimes as a company we try to look at a piece as if it’s being done for the first time and with this one, we’re really able to do that because no one has done it in Los Angeles yet.”

You can decide for yourself whether you think Double Falsehood is indeed the lost work of Shakespeare or merely a hoax played by an editor looking for his own success when the play opens this weekend. For more information go to www.coeurage.org.

Cast: Jeremy Lelliott as Henriquez, Valorie May Curry, Peter Weidman, Sammi Smith, Dennis Gersten, Nicole Farmer, Alexander Wells, Michael Yurchak, and Amin El-Gamal

Directed by: Kirsten Kuiken
Stage Manager: Michelle Stann
Sound Design: Joe Calarco
Scenic Design: Jenna Pletcher
Fight Choreography: TJ Marchbank
Dramaturgy: Lawrence Peters
Costume and Hair Design: Erik McEwen

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