Premiere: Born With Teeth at Alley Theater
Despite being rivals, William Shakespeare and Christopher “Kit” Marlowe actually collaborated on a historical playwriting cycle. This is what gave modern playwright Liz Duffy Adams the idea of born with teeth thrown at a time when a polarized nation was filled with paranoia as it was ruled by an aging ruler. And when it was dangerous for writers to freely express their opinions about what was going on.
Resident Company member Dylan Godwin stars in the Alley Theater production as a young Shakespeare, a young man who is just beginning to gain recognition. Matthew Amendt plays Marlowe, the much more established playwright who also gets caught up in the secret conspiracies and machinations surrounding the end of the Elizabethan court.
Originally, the Alley worked on the piece the year before COVID started. It was going to be in the season, but with all the changes that followed, it was delayed until now. And ironically enough, its references to “the plague” in the play became all the more understandable given what was happening to its cast and crew over the past two years, Godwin said.
“Our playwright Liz Duffy Adams has been a huge, long-time Shakespeare fan and also a Marlowe fan,” Godwin said. “Probably six or seven years ago they came out with this technology that could analyze Shakespeare’s scripts. There’s so much controversy, there’s so many different schools of thought that he wrote them down, somebody another wrote them.
“But what we know now about how they would put some of those early plays together, they would hire two playwrights. One would take scenes 1, 3, 5 and 7 or scenes that were kind of tied together and they would write separately and What they have achieved recently with this technology, they have found a kind of algorithm, to analyze the texts and they have achieved through the choice of words and the syntax what the playwright wrote what.
“So on these plays of Henry VI – there are three of them – they realized that Shakespeare, Marlowe and [Thomas] Nashe would collaborate… and Marlowe and Shakespeare on the last two. So Liz kind of used that as a springboard to create this reality where they’re actually writing together in the same room. Whether that happened or not, we’re not really sure.”
When the play begins, it is the first time that Shakespeare and Marlowe have worked together. Although they are the same age (both born in 1564, just two months apart), “Kit has already had great success with Tamburlain, Doctor Faust and Shakespeare has kind of just started his career. he wrote comedy of errors and Titus Andronicus“but not games like Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet for which he became more famous, said Godwin.
“As the play progresses, Shakespeare starts to gain a foothold and Marlowe kind of goes the other way,” Godwin said. (Marlowe would die at a young age in a fight that was supposed to be over a bill.) “It’s an interesting meditation on how people engulf, devour and take over and it shows in somehow in their work.”
At the beginning of born with teeth, “Shakespeare is sort of a provincial mouse from the Midlands, whereas Marlowe has been in London for a while,” Godwin said. “You follow him as he grows wiser and more circumspect.” The ending is completed with a twist at the end (which Godwin would not give).
“One of the things we know about Marlowe is that he was heavily involved in the Elizabethan spy ring,” Godwin said. “Towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, she clung to power in every way she could. One of the ways she did that was to establish this state apparatus, this spy ring to always keep her in power. Because it was kind of a totalitarian state. And Kit was very involved in that. One of the things about being involved in that kind of lifestyle is you couldn’t maintain it only so long before it catches up to you. And that’s kind of the journey it’s on.”
There’s plenty of humor in the play with an assortment of Easter eggs tossed by Adams from works by Shakespeare and Marlowe, Godwin said. At the same time, he added: “People, even if they don’t know anything about Shakespeare and Marlowe, can come and see this play and not only enjoy it but really get involved in it. Because it’s it’s really about the relationship between these two guys, these two amazing brains and the way they rub shoulders and touch each other and at times kiss and get close to each other and at other times push each other away and fight but inside there’s so much comedy because they’re such different characters.
“There’s something very punk about it, there’s something very edgy about it,” he said. “There’s a real undertone of weirdness and the relationship between the two men lives on in that world. It’s not the main theme of the play. But I think it can be rare to see depictions like that.”
The 84-minute one-act play has three major scenes, Godwin said, and it was in the latter part that current events influenced the perceptions of everyone involved — and likely his audience as well.
“In the third part of the play they’re in the plague and it was in England and so when we first worked it we didn’t really have an idea. The plague was an idea that was kind of abstract. And then all of a sudden we went through COVID. So we quickly started to understand what it means to be separated from your work, separated from your family and separated from your family.
When asked why people should attend the play, Godwin replied:
“I think it’s something that we haven’t seen on the Alley stage in a very long time, the way these two guys interact. I think it highlights something that a lot of people can relegate to the boring folder in their brain or high school English files in their brain, but it’s not.
“It’s something that feels bigger and more important than that and it’s really a lot of fun. It’s this wonderful kind of little gem that you can sit in and immerse yourself in the world and then come out again. “
Performances continue through June 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Alley Theater, 615 Texas Avenue. For more information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $28 to $57.
From June 6 to 19, a paid digital version filmed live at the Alley will be available. $25.
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