Thursday, September 28, 2023

Shakespeare meets Marlowe

I read about the production at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre of a play about Shakespeare and Marlowe collaborating on the Henry VI trilogy, and bought a ticket for an upcoming streaming performance, before I learned that OSF has put the same play on its schedule for next year, so I'll probably see it again. It's called Born With Teeth by Liz Duffy Adams.

It'll be worth it, if it's well enough acted. I've seen it now; it's a virtuoso script for just the two actors as the playwrights taunt and test one another and yes, get some writing done. It starts with Marlowe in command, smirking and belittling the tyro Will. At one early point Shakespeare complains about Marlowe arguing with him and Marlowe says, "You think I'm arguing? I'm not even sharpening my teeth on you yet," and Shakespeare replies, "I think you were born with teeth."

Pause. Then they simultaneously point at each other and exclaim "I'm using that!" (It's in part 3, describing Richard of Gloucester.)

Marlowe shocks and disconcerts Shakespeare with tales of his other life as a spy working for the Queen's chief minister Lord Burghley. In this police state, as it's openly called in an expository aside to the audience, the currency is accusations against others, whether true or false, and Marlowe makes no bones about, if he's ever caught in a situation where he'd have to accuse Shakespeare to save himself, then it's him or me.

The play has three scenes, each about a year apart, as they work on the three parts of Henry VI, and Shakespeare grows in confidence, especially in his explanations that, while Marlowe displays himself in all his work, Shakespeare wants to hide himself behind his work and speak only through his characters. The play hits its real stride halfway through, when the two have a long discussion of religious belief, more even-handed than their earlier exchanges, and then act out a long passage from Part 2 (Suffolk's and Margaret's farewell). As always in plays about Shakespeare, the long quotes are the highlight. If you're wondering how Marlowe's death in 1593, the same year as the third part of this play, will be alluded to, patience, it'll get there.

Due credit to the actors, Dean Linnard, big and blustery as Marlowe, and Brady Morales-Woolery, smaller, darker, and less bold, but capable of equal firmness, as Shakespeare. I hope OSF finds people as good as these.

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