Stepping out of a cramped, crowded, black box theater after witnessing all the tragedy, comedy and witty skepticism of Christopher Marlowe‘s life just felt so wrong.
A performance packed with actors and a script both acted and written at such a high caliber deserves way more than a couple seats set up around minimal stage space.
Playwright Nat Cassidy brought together everything audiences could want in a play dealing with spotty literature references and Elizabethan troubles in his production of The Reckoning of Kit and Little Boots, which runs until March 2 at The Den Theatre (133 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Owais Ahmed) is an Elizabethan playwright who believes his education has given him enough to warrant him everlasting fame. Caligula (Tim Parker) is the iron-fisted Roman Emperor that Kit never gets to write about.
The play is set in the Elizabethan era where great writers like Shakespeare and Marlowe are just getting started, but pulls Caligula from the fallen Roman Empire to compare the likeness of these two unlikely characters.
As Kit lies dying of a fatal stab wound to the head, he is visited by Caligula’s ghost and is taken back through both their timelines, comparing encounters and people in each of their lives while uncovering some very nasty truths about Caligula’s dark past.
Shakespeare (Dav Yendler), the light-hearted, carefree guy who always seems to have a pitcher in his hand, and Kit’s roommate Thomas Kyde (Garret Lutz), a less successful playwright, are probably two of the most important supporting roles onstage. Interactions with both of them reveal Kit’s ego and self-absorption and grip the audience with casual comic relief that is greatly needed as tensions run high between characters.
Caligula is a spicy character, filled with sarcasm and bombastic energy, yet still manages to draw sympathy from the audience when telling anecdotes of how he became such an iron-fisted Roman ruler. A better actor for the role could not have been chosen. Tim Parker pounces around the stage with marvelous tenacity and proves to be a fierce competitor when leading roles are defined. His endearing and over-the-top responses are exactly what you would expect from a 29-year-old unforgiving Roman emperor.
Cassidy did a great job of telling the tale of a lesser-known figure in history. There’s a perfect balance between truth and irony: Known events about Marlowe’s life struggle to be remembered, riddled with inappropriate modern-day humor and outlandish responses from the supporting cast — let’s just say the sexual tension is aplenty.
Marlowe’s sisters in the play, Anne (Kate Cornelius-Schecter) and Dorothy (Sarah Davis), are tricky characters to get a read on. Their bizarre acting was a bit off-putting, considering the enclosed setting of a black box theater, and I think that’s where these two may have failed. Dorothy’s character resonates because of her similarity to the typical high school “mean girl,” so to speak. Her responses and facial expressions seem too strongly absorbed in what the role is on paper, and less focused on how encounters would have unfolded in reality.
Overall, Cassidy’s take on Marlowe’s life is pleasantly refreshing. His characters are all filled with spunk, and it is a great take on an often forgotten Elizabethan playwright. The struggles of power, religion and murder are always welcomed in tragic productions, and Cassidy managed to balance them all in a slightly perfect drama.