- Double Falsehood
In spring 2011, Atlanta's New American Shakespeare Tavern performed Edward III, the last remaining play in the accepted cannon which they had not previously performed, making them one of the only companies in the world to stage every one of Shakespeare's plays. When they realized that the newly-accepted Double Falsehood was left out, they tacked on a production after the end of the regular Tavern season, which normally wraps up in May.
The Tavern's company prides themselves on being an "original practice" playhouse, explaining on their website that original practice "begins with the way the play was originally staged in its own time and ends with a modern audience experiencing the play in a manner consistent with its creator's original intent." In accordance with this, the Shakespeare Tavern's sets are always minimal, sticking for the most part with a single configuration similar to that in the Globe Theatre (a balcony, an upstage area that can be curtained off or left open, etc.). The costumes are similarly built around a stock of existing pieces, all inspired by basic designs of the period from 1590 to 1610. Lighting is functional as opposed to evocative or dramatic. There are no "re-imaginings" of Shakespeare here, no alternate settings or interpretations; the company strives to present the audience with a reasonable facsimile of the playgoing experience of that time, adapted for a modern audience. As a result, there is never anything particularly novel or remarkable about the set or costumes, and this is by design; without these potential distractions, the audience is allowed to focus entirely on the story and the characters.
But which "creator" are we talking about for Double Falsehood? Should it be played as if it were a Shakespeare play, contemporary with the rest of the canon? The text used as the basis for this production was the Arden edition, which traces its lineage to Theobald's 1727 production. As a [End Page 205] result, it makes sense to take a different approach in keeping with 1700s theatre, including changes in the way the characters are portrayed. And, in keeping with this, the main departure from the company's norm was the acting style, summed up in one word: melodrama.
While all the performances were over the top, Jonathan Horne's Henriquez was cut from the same cloth as Snidely Whiplash and the moustache-twirling villains of the silent-screen era. This was no plain dealing villain like Don John; and the play does not even offer as thin a justification as "I hate the Moor" for his action. His costume was suggestive of Zorro, with a wide-brimmed black hat, an enormous red-lined black cape (which he flourished to great effect upon almost every entrance and exit), and a red rose in place of a saber in the scabbard at his waist. The rest of the cast followed suit, settling into their own respective caricatures as the dashing young hero, the poor imperiled maiden, and so forth.
As in the original text, the only one taken in by Violante's disguise as a boy was Roderick. A different tack was taken in 2.4, when the Citizen offers to exchange clothes with Julio to provide him with a disguise: unfortunately, their outfits are very similar, down to the ubiquitous black cape; so the citizen carefully peeled off his beauty mark and gave it to Julio, rendering him "unrecognizable" to everyone, including his beloved Leonora. At the play's denouement, the assembled company gasped and took a step back in shock when he removed the birthmark, revealing his true identity. This ridiculous contrivance pointed up the equally absurd nature of so...