Off Broadway Reviews
Prior to the brawling bards, which includes academic-referee hand-puppets and a Barbie doll ring girl, Marlowe's Fate presents a possible scenario behind one of the most enduring conjectural conspiracies, the Marlowe-as-Shakespeare authorship theory. The play begins in the home of Mistress Bull (Sarah Kiefer), and which is where Marlowe (Tim Dowd) was presumably killed. This private dining club sets the scene, Marlovians would argue, for the greatest literary hoaxes of all time.
The Privy Council had deemed Marlowe dangerous because of his atheism, heresy, and, to paraphrase Marlowe, his love for both tobacco and boys. Robert Poley (Thomas Grube), an Agent of the Crown, brings word that Marlowe the man shall be killed, but Marlowe the writer shall remain alive. With the help of a couple of henchmen, Skeres and Frizer (Len Rella and Brady Adair), Marlowe fakes his death, and a substitute corpse is secured. All that is needed is a useful pawn to present his work in his place.
Enter young William Shaxper (Dowd), who is uneducated, discreet, and has a habit of spelling his name with all kinds of variations. He seems to be the perfect stand-in. Perfect, that is, until he gets restless and threatens to undermine the whole scheme. Ben Jonson (Rella) steps in as a friend and mentor to manage Shaxper, who will continue to serve as a Marlowe front. Jonson, the play also suggests, is chiefly responsible for making sure Shakespeare's name stayed and stays attached to Marlowe's works.
As a result Marlowe's Fate is more of an argument than a play, and the characters (including Marlowe and Shakespeare, who have relatively little stage time) are not much more than mouthpieces for theories that have been more persuasively (but not nearly definitively) argued elsewhere. Therefore, the evening makes for, as Shakespeare (or Marlowe?) might state, a very long "two hours traffic of our stage." This is a pity since there is some fine writing, and there are notable passages that nicely convey Elizabethan inflections and syntax.
Hodge has directed a fine company of actors, each doing triple duty (or more) as the large roster of historical and literary figures. With minimal costume changes the company effectively captures the heroic and roguish qualities of the characters, span the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. (Elizabeth Bove designed the excellent and period-specific costumes.)
Caravan should be commended for undertaking an ambitious project with two different plays on a similar subject. In the spirit of the Marlowe-Shakespeare, punch-counterpunch, puppet death match, however, it might have been wise to produce a play with an opposing view or alternative hypothesis. In its presentation of two works from the Marlovian perspective it seems the theatre company doth protest too much.