Clayton Apgar and MacKenzie Meehan
in Double Falsehood
(© Joan Marcus)
Clayton Apgar and MacKenzie Meehan
in Double Falsehood
(© Joan Marcus)
It's a rare event indeed for theatergoers to find themselves witnessing a "new" play by William Shakespeare, and yet, with Double Falsehood, playing at Classic Stage Company, New York audiences are indeed having the chance to see a play only recently added to the Bard's canon. (The work is credited to Shakespeare and his contemporary John Fletcher, and survives only in this 18th-century adaptation by Lewis Theobold.) While this would be reason enough to recommend taking in the piece, after watching Brian Kulick's assured staging, it's difficult to imagine the play receiving a more satisfying and beautifully spoken production.

Double Falsehood finds its crux in the duplicitous romantic and sexual scheming of Henriquez (Slate Holmgren), who satiates his lust for Violante (Mackenzie Meehan), of whom he knows his royal father (Philip Goodwin) does not approve, and then turns to another man's love, Leonora (Hayley Treider). In order to woo her, Henriquez conspires to have her lover Julio (Clayton Apgar) sent to his father's court, and once this man has departed, Henriquez secures the consent of her father, Don Bernardo (Jon Devries), to a marriage.

Leonora manages to alert Julio to her plight, and he returns to her on the day of the wedding, which he manages to avert. But things do not end happily there. Julio's ousted from the ceremony and Leonora attempts suicide. When the play shifts forward after intermission, Julio wanders the countryside in madness, while Leonora has secluded herself in a convent. Thanks to a chance encounter between Violante, who has also left the city disguised as a boy, and Henriquez' brother Roderick (Bryce Gill), the lovers are happily reunited.

To Kulick's credit, the play's varied tones and its sometimes disjointed storytelling blend into one satisfying whole, which seems both at once modern (thanks to Oana Botez-Ban's 1930s inspired costume designs) and other worldly (a sense reinforced by Christian Frederickson's soundscape and original score, which has an ethereal music box sound).

Equally impressive is the work of the company. Not only do the multiply cast Gill and Goodwin offer distinct portrayals of Henriquez' royal relatives, they also turn in individualized performances as shepherds and other secondary characters. The charismatic Holmgren makes Henriquez a distastefully likeable villain, while Apgar's Julio makes for a passionate if pitiable hero. As Leonora's passively aggressive father, Devries finds a terrific balance between gentle love and stern, often cruel, paternal totalitarianism.

If both Treider and Meehan's performances initially feel too stridently contemporary, both performers ultimately offer up remarkably touching turns, creating two striking portrayals of heroines, cut in the classic Shakespearean vein.