Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick)
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
August 10, 2013
A scene from Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick)
In Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing the characters of Beatrice and Benedick begin the play with scathing, verbal attacks on each other while each separately swearing to never fall in love. But when Don Pedro takes Beatrice to task for putting down his friend, they have the following curious conversation:
Don Pedro: Come Lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
Beatrice: Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
Don Pedro: You have put him down Lady, you have put him down.
Beatrice: So I would not he would do me, my Lord, lest I should prove the mother of fools.
From this exchange we learn that Beatrice and Benedick, who seem to hate each other, were once romantically involved which is the intriguing root of their mutual enmity. David Hansen’s play Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick) now playing in FringeNYC, is a prequel to Shakespeare’s Much Ado which attempts to fill in this romantic history. Given the dialog above and other hints Shaekspeare drops, I’d say his version of their past is highly plausible.
Double Heart is a new verse play which was commissioned by the Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland to compliment their production of Much Ado. The costumes are a goofy late eighteenth century style with lots of silly wigs. The settings change when a new illustrated curtain is humorously drawn across a small frame at the verbal announcement of a new place.
There are four actors. Two of them, the playwright Hansen and Annie Hickey, play a variety of smaller roles on a cartoonish scale. Some of the servants had cockney accents, which puzzled me since the action takes place in Italy. However, the other two actors: Emily Pucell and James Rankin (who play Beatrice and Benedick respectively) do a lovely and very credible job of bringing to life what these two famous characters might have been like in their late teens.
Here is where Hansen’s research and the lead actors’ good work really pay off - especially if you love Much Ado as much as I do. The young Beatrice we are introduced to is already famous for her sharp tongue, reads books all the time and has zero suitors. Enter Benedick, a smart-aleck young soldier, too honest for his own good, who woos her with stories of battle tragedies. They amaze each other and become instant friends. It was a great treat to see Pucell and Rankin play these characters with such rawness and youth: trying to negotiate love, war and big life decisions while being scared to death at the same time. Hansen makes an excellent case (which I won’t give away) as to how they could have loved each other so much and then messed it up so entirely. I particularly loved Pucell’s work at the end of Double Heart where I could see the beautiful, deep, melancholy of Beatrice’s humor in Much Ado already seeping in.
Double Heart is not the most professionally sophisticated production you could see at FringeNYC. But the strong, ingenuous work done by the two lead actors and the joy of exploring the romantic-history-that-might-have-been make the show well worth the hour of your time and fifteen bucks – especially for Shakespeare fans.