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Mordant Wit, on the Death of a Playwright


The recorded history of Shakespeare's life is riddled with enough gaps to invite speculation. So is that of his contemporary, Christopher Marlowe, who was killed under mysterious circumstances at age 29.

Charles Marowitz weaves both playwrights into a fictive account of that incident in the mordantly funny "Murdering Marlowe," presented by Malibu Stage Company.

Marlowe and Shakespeare were born in 1564, but by the time of his death in 1593, Marlowe had revolutionized drama with such plays as "Tamburlaine," "Edward II" and "Doctor Faustus." Shakespeare had not yet written anything comparable.

Embroidering freely on fact and working in a style of prose and blank verse that approximates the one used by both writers, Marowitz envisions the 29-year-old Shakespeare being tormented by Marlowe's success. "Fame is but a narrow little stage, not wide enough for all that mount its board," the young Bard says, while a huge re-creation of the "Tamburlaine" title page hangs tauntingly over everything he does.

Michael Matthys' Shakespeare is alternately raging and sullen, while JD Cullum's Marlowe is prone to airy boastfulness and the frivolous pursuits of alcohol and sex.

Serving as his own director, Marowitz infuses the action with intrigue, dark humor and looming tragedy as Shakespeare is driven by warring muses--his critical wife, Ann Hathaway (Terry Diab), and his nurturing mistress, Emilia (Susan Duerden)--and as the incautious, unapologetically homosexual Marlowe runs afoul of the outraged Robert Poley (Richard Osborn) and Ingram Frizer (Christopher Moore).

"Murdering Marlowe," Malibu Stage Company, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Ends June 30. $20. (310) 589-1998. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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