Shakespeare and Marlowe: Dramatists, Poets, Secret Agents
Not since Nick Cage found a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence has there been such an amusing historical fiction action adventure as Her Majesty’s Will. Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric from the 2012 novel by David Blixt, Lifeline Theatre’s latest original work is packed full of hair-raising fight scenes choreographed by Blixt himself, the intricate plotting of spies and criminals in Elizabethan London, alterative origins for early modern poetry’s most famous turns of phrase, and a very historically-informed, albeit totally fictional, account of what made William Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe into the shapers of our language.
A Most Unexpected Meet-Cute
In contrast to the elevated language and expectations set by the Henry V-like Chorus (Heather Chrisler), we first see Shakespeare as a school teacher in Lancashire whose main tactic for controlling his classroom is to beg his students to take him seriously. He’s a great fan of the theatre, despite interacting with it only by reading dramas and watching the traveling troupes that come around from time to time, and he so wishes that other people would see something sublime in him wearing a dress while bellowing odes to the Greek gods. But this apparently sadsack life is disrupted when he uses his ability to convincingly fake mastery with a rapier to rescue a maiden from mysterious attackers. That maiden turns out to be Christopher “Kit” Marlowe in disguise, and he has just stolen a coded paper from Mary, Queen of Scots. Getting that paper to the right person if they don’t get killed first could save the life of Queen Elizabeth, and Shakespeare can hardly resist going on an adventure in London, even if it does put him in grave danger due to a terrible nobleman’s vendetta against him.
Lifeline Theatre Builds the Tudor Era Out of Shadows
As Shakespeare and Marlowe, Javier Ferreira and Bryan Bosque play the leads, and eventually the main romantic couple with great charisma. Ferreira’s Shakespeare is really the show’s only three-dimensional character and it takes until the second act for him to really come into his own. But Bosque’s very flamboyant and occasionally annoying Marlowe is energetic and witty enough to drive the show’s plot until then and entice us, along with Shakespeare, into the colorful underworld of Blixt’s universe. As the show’s tone becomes more serious, so too does the performance of LaQuin Groves in the role of John Savage, the main villain. Starting off as a simple minion baffled by silly tricks, he develops into a terrorist fanatic by the show’s climax, in no small part to Blixt’s swordplay and the mobile set pieces designed by Eleanor Kahn. The show’s other actors demonstrate a similar versatility, as does the design, which morphs fluidly into all the locales of a cutthroat universe.
Managing to make these varying levels of tone work coherently within the same universe is director Chris Hainsworth. His staging is ingenious, particularly when he finds ways of affording Ferreira some time for introspection amid the various kidnappings, bear-baitings, and chases going on. Ahistorical as the plot is, Blixt’s choice of Shakespeare as a protagonist supplies the heart of the story. Shakespeare created a common culture between aristocrats and pub denizens and insisted on telling stories of his own country on equal footing with those of the classical world.
Blixt and Kazlauric’s script mythologizes how such a person could come to exist. We see Shakespeare take inspiration from Thomas Kyd, the first of England’s Renaissance playwrights, and struggle with how to maintain a healthy sense of pride in his culture while being brutalized by its inequalities and seeing worse happen to those below him in class. With the truth of Shakespeare’s formative years forever lost, Her Majesty’s Will makes for an enjoyable fantasy that distils the meaning of the legend.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Now through July 16
Thursdays and Friday at 7:30 pm
Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00 pm
Sundays at 4:00 pm
Running time is two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission
6912 N Glenwood Ave, Chicago
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
$40, or $30 for active and retired military personnel with ID and seniors, or $20 for students.
$20 rush tickets by availability
Visit LifelineTheatre.com or call 773-761-4477
Photos by Cole Simon.
About the Author: Jacob Davis
Jacob Davis is a freelance writer and dramaturge. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Theatre, where he specialized in the history of dramatic literature and interned as a dramaturge for Dance Heginbotham. His professional work includes developing new performance pieces such as The Blues Ain’t a Color. Since moving to Chicago in 2014 he has reviewed theatre, written articles, and conducted interviews for a number of websites.