Coeurage Theatre Company mounts L.A.’s first Double Falsehood

coeurage theatre company is offering a first for west coast Shakespeare lovers with its current production of Double Falsehood. Not only has the play been recently acknowledged as written by the Bard, in combination with his successor John Fletcher, but it is also the first production to be mounted in Los Angeles. Much debate exists over whether Shakespeare truly did have a hand in the play, so my recommendation is that you see it and decide for yourself.

Love, lust, and deception duel in this tale of Henriquez (Jeremy Lelliott pictured left), a self-absorbed lothario whose lascivious appetite for the fair Violante (Valorie Curry) causes him to violate her against her will and then cast her aside, ruined, with no other option but to flee to the woods. He then schemes to marry his friend Julio’s (Peter Weidman) fiancé, Leonora, (Sammi Smith) by striking a deal with her father (Dennis Gersten) to the horror of the young woman who attempts an unsuccessful suicide before escaping to a nunnery.

Director Kirsten Kuiken has wisely kept the staging simple and direct, using only a few set pieces in the intimate space and allowing the words themselves to be the focus. Several well-crafted performances make coeurage’s production worthy of a trek to the Actors Circle Theatre in Hollywood, especially those of Curry and Lelliott.

Curry’s Violante (right) is a woman who commands attention with stillness and quiet intensity, whether in her female persona or disguised as a boy. She says more with a look than you can imagine and you’ll be hard-pressed to take your eyes off her when she is on stage. Lelliott is equally enticing as the cad who commits the double falsehood, offering insight into the gray area of one man’s bankrupt conscience and his attempt to justify his actions. His Henriquez is charming, smooth, and ever so slightly oily, and he handles the text with an ease that allows its many subtleties to ride the air before being pricked like a bubble meeting a pin.

Additionally, Alexander Wells has a strong double turn as the Duke and a Shepherd who discovers Violante’s secret in the woods, and Michael Yurchak is steady and honest as Henriquez’s brother Roderick, the voice of reason who helps restore all things to their rightful place…though not all are happily resolved.

Original music is by coeurage’s emotional secret weapon, Gregory Nabours, and Joe Calarco has created the effective sound design. Michelle Stan’s lighting defines locales that range from dark and moody to pastoral in the intimate space, and Erik McEwen is credited with costume, hair & make-up design. Fullerton Civic Light Opera supplies the 1950s vintage costumes

Whether or not Double Falsehood continues to be attributed to Shakespeare in years to come, or is debunked by some as yet undiscovered authority, the opportunity to see it for the first time is one that shouldn’t be missed. The play is slated to run though November 6 and tickets for all shows are “Pay What You Want.” Click Here for more information.

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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