Chicago Theatre Review
Shakespeare and Marlowe’s Wild Adventures
Her Majesty’s Will – Lifeline Theatre
Teaching at an unpromising academy for boys in rural Lancaster, the schoolmaster is soon discovered to actually be a fugitive hiding out from the injustice of English law. He introduces himself as Will Falstaff, but in reality we’re meeting a young William Shakespeare, long before the start of his impressive theatrical and literary career. Suddenly Will finds himself embroiled in a noisy brouhaha outside the classroom doors, compelling Schoolmaster Falstaff to rescue a young woman from a couple of Elizabethan goons.
The lady, however, turns out to be no lady at all, but a high-spirited, courageous, handsome young man named Christopher Marlowe. Kit is in disguise because he’s secretly in the employ of Sir Edward Walsingham, the director of Queen Elizabeth’s secret service. The youth, it seems, has discovered a plot by English Papists to assassinate the reigning monarch and replace the Queen with her Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. Marlowe argues that, because of his intervention, Will is now in danger for saving him. Kit convinces Will that together they must make a hasty retreat to London.
And thus Robert Kauzlaric’s dramatic adaptation of Chicago author/actor David Blixt’s historical novel, becomes a comical Elizabethan buddy drama. It’s a play filled with adventure, swordplay and moments of unexpected romance between Will and Kit. Imagining Shakespeare’s “lost years,” this play is like like one of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s iconic road movies, but with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Errol Flynn in the leading roles. It’s full of risky plot twists and impending peril, but there’s also the kind of humor found in “The Princess Bride.” These two likable, charismatic young men encounter dozens of quirky, often dangerous characters along the way. New to the big city of Tudor London, Will takes an unexpected liking to its menace and corruption. He finds titillation and enjoyment in associating with beggars and criminals, lowlifes and loose cannons, far more than the company of the court. In being Kit Marlowe’s comrade and companion, Will is converted into becoming another spy for the Crown. Eventually the two make their way to the Elizabethan theatre scene and onto the stage.
Lifeline Theatre ensemble member Chris Hainsworth directs this world premiere with relish and a particular flair for staging the kind of story that features a pair of headstrong protagonists and an eccentric ensemble of supporting players. As always with this company, Kauzlaric’s comic adventure sprawls across the intimate Lifeline theatre, up the stage walls and out into the aisles. Scenic designer Eleanor Kahn has created a modest stage setting that’s dominated by an all-purpose, mobile unit that features a door. This flexible scenic piece starts out as Shakespeare’s school, but it transforms, aided by the audience’s imagination, into an inn, the backstage of a London theater and even the royal coach of Lady Helena, the Queen’s lady-in-waiting. There’s also a pair of movable wrought iron gates that appear now and then, as well as an upper level that’s approachable by stairs and ladders.
The cast is a gritty, hardworking ensemble of energetic and versatile actors, most of whom play several roles. Naturally, solo performances by Javier Ferreira, as Will, and Bryan Bosque, as Kit, dominate this story. These two likable actors, particularly Bosque, are brimming with charm and pizzazz. They always keep the ball rolling, even in the play’s rare, quieter moments. But their forte is in the play’s comedic, swashbuckling moments. Will and Kit’s attraction to each other is a bit unexpected but deliciously portrayed; we cheer for their relationship to thrive and prosper and, by every indication during the final curtain, these two will remain loving companions for years to come.
The seven remaining ensemble members is led by lovely, talented Heather Chrisler, who opens the play in the role of the Chorus, our tantalizing hostess. She periodically pops up in this role, but she’s even more delightful as both Lady Helena and Emily, the amiable bar wench. Don Bender makes a humorous, but stuffy Sir Francis Walsingham, among other characters; Don Cobbler plays Will’s villainous, antagonist Sir Thomas Lucy, as well as Dick Tarlton, the lute-playing fool. Peter Greenberg is properly full of himself as Cambridge educated Robert Greene, among others; LaQuin Groves towers over everyone as bully, John Savage, and several other notable personages; Martel Manning is likable as John Lyly and dashing Mike Ooi is hilarious as, along with a raft of other characters, the shifty, guileful Cutting Ball.
Clad in Aly Renee Amidei’s adaptable wardrobe, which suggests Tudor England, without screaming period costumes, this play is exciting and a full of fun. With its G-rated gay romance, this comedy is a timely offering during Pride month. Astute audience members will enjoy recognizing the puns, quotations, character names and play titles—all of which will eventually find their way into the works of the Bard.
Made even more exciting by David Blixt’s carefully choreographed swordplay and combat direction, seasoned with original Elizabethan-sounding music by Jeffrey Levin and nicely lit by Diane D. Fairchild, this animated adventure story, filled with intrigue, passion and wild sword fights will thrill even the most jaded Shakespeare scholar and will inspire many others to read Blixt’s original novel, conveniently for sale in the lobby. Welcome to Shakespeare and Marlowe’ wild adventures!
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 26-July 16 by Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-761-4477 or by going to www.lifelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.