- Kit Marlowe
- By David Grimm
- Directed by Jessie R. Gallogly
- Produced by Rorschach Theatre
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
David Grimm’s Kit Marlowe is a history play, written in the old style and the high language, so full of juice and life and sweetness of phrase that it could have been written by Marlowe himself, had Marlowe been born in the 20th century and permitted to write whatever came into his head. And Rorschach Theatre – why, Rorschach just plays the hell out of it! How great is that! So stop reading this review and go buy your tickets!
What? Still here? All right, all right. Kit Marlowe is less a history play like Edward II (opening at the Shakespeare Theatre Nov 9), about whom much is known, and more like the one about Timur the Lame (or Tamburlaine, opening at the Shakespeare Theatre Nov 7), about whom almost nothing is known. Marlowe, like his subject Timur, was a shadowy figure, the son of a working man who through his brilliance and matchless ambition reached the very apex of his profession – and then died.
From these slender reeds – and from a brickyard of rumors and suspicions – Grimm has constructed a mansion. Grimm reimagines Marlowe (Adam Jonas Segaller) as a spy (as he may have been) who has reached his own Faustian bargain with the great spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham (John Brennan). In return for Marlowe’s undying loyalty and unquestioning obedience, Sir Francis will commission the unknown and impoverished youth into the world of lucrative adventure. Marlowe is astonished to discover how good he is at spycraft but he should not be. After all, the skills of the successful spy – lying, treachery, and murder – are also the skills of the playwright.
Once he is a success on the London stage, Marlowe has no further interest in working for Sir Francis. But it is the devil’s own job to undo a Faustian bargain. Sir Francis is after big game: Marlowe’s idol, Sir Walter Raleigh (William Aitken), and he believes Marlowe is the man who can bring him down. Sir Francis is desperate to find evidence that Raleigh collaborated with Catholics against the Queen, but when Marlowe finds Raleigh’s true weakness – a very human violation of one of the innumerable paranoid Tudor rules – it suffices to cast this great man into the Tower of London.
To tell more about the plot would be a disservice to Grimm’s fine story, which is in any event told brilliantly in Rorschach’s excellent production. Segaller is fabulous in the title role: his Marlowe is a man who is constantly giving the whole world a sloppy wet kiss. He may affect cynicism, and he may be cruel, but Segaller’s Marlowe is at all times a huge engine of life, joy and laughter, and there is not a moment in which it seems less than authentic. Indeed, his performance makes me remember the young Tim Curry, playing Mozart in Amadeus thirty years ago. It is that good.
The rest of the cast measures up to this incredible work. Matt Dunphy is utterly convincing as Sir Francis’ young cousin, Thomas Walsingham. Thomas makes his own Faustian bargain by turning his back on his love for Marlowe, and on his own sexual orientation, in order to marry a wealthy woman. Brennan is full of self-contained menace as the spymaster; the hatred slops out of him like water from an overfilled pail. Tony Bullock is outstanding as Essex, a prig whose rage at Raleigh turns out to be the engine of the entire plot. Aitkin does an interesting thing with Sir Walter: he bestows upon him a rustic rasp, which makes him seem like a simple and honest man among all the highblown rhetoricians. Indeed, up and down the cast list there is not a performance which is less than excellent. The fine set (Eric Grims), authentic costumes (Emily Dere) and strong sound design (Veronica Lancaster) fit the action seamlessly.
When this much goes well, a lion’s share of the credit must belong to the director. Jessie Gallogly has apprenticed under some of the best, including Moises Kaufman and Jeremy Skidmore. This production shows that the student has mastered the lesson. Kit Marlowe flies, with scenes intercutting each other with such facility that they conjure up images of a circus act, with high-wire acrobats. And those of you who follow copyright law with interest will be pleased to know that, as far as I can tell, the play is produced exactly as written.
There. Is that enough? Now are your ready to buy your tickets?
- Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes, including one intermission.
- Where: The Sanctuary Theatre, Casa Del Puerblo Methodist Church, 1459 Columbia Road, Washington.
- When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. until December 2. No show on Thursday, Nov. 22 (Thanksgiving).
- Tickets: $20 ($12 for groups, seniors and students)
- Information: Call 202.452.5538 or visit their website.
- Notes: An actor is naked on stage for part of one scene.