Playwright: Adapted by Robert Kauzlaric, from the novel by David Blixt. At: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave. Tickets: $40. Runs through: July 16
Some say it all began in 1973 with the novel The Princess Bride, some in 1998 with Shakespeare in Love, and yet others attribute the revival of the sword-and-cloak literary genre to theatrical combat designers weary of applying their skills to the same few plays. Whatever the source, consumers of historical fiction in 2017 can find Elizabethan superstars William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe starring in whodunits, bodice-rippers, glam-camp farces, graphic novels and even cookbooks.
The speculations of fight designer-turned-author David Blixt focus on what literary scholars call "Shakespeare's lost years," when the Stratford schoolmaster fled his provincial home and family to emerge less than a decade later in metropolitan London as the favorite playwright of Her Royal Highness Elizabeth I. Young Will's progressall purely hypothetical, remembersteers him into the company of bad-boy Oxford-dropout and part-time secret agent "Kit" Marlowe. Other current topics addressed in the text include religious wars, artistic theory, theum, pliant boundaries of "bromance" and the identity of the mysterious "dark lady" referenced in the sonnets.
Mostly, though, we are catapulted through royal intrigues, thrilling adventures, narrow escapes, intrepid nemeses and unexpected allies, accompanied by plenty of swashbuckling action involving trapdoors, runaway carriages, barroom brawls, rapiers, daggers, punches, grapples and exits with bears in pursuit. Rob Kauzlaric's adaptation features dialogue incorporating speeches lifted from the Bard's Greatest Hits, with brief digressions for discussions on the future of the English theater, the fine points of continental fencing techniques and the morphological connection between "Fall-staff" and "Shake-spear."
This is a dizzying array of moving parts to keep in motion over two and a half hours and, on opening night, director Chris Hainsworth's narrative pace required a few minutes to achieve optimum velocity ( Bryan Bosque should also tone down Kit's fey mannerisms sooner ) but, before long, the nine-actor ensemble portraying 22-plus characters, led by Javier Ferreira's William you-know-who, were swapping personae with protean dexterity, assisted by Jeffrey Levin's sound design painting an aural picture of an environment well beyond the confines of Eleanor Kahn's skeletal scaffold-and-wagon scenery.
Summer is the season for Shakespearean romps, whether big-budget ( like that other what-if English-lit fantasy at the Pier ) or planks-and-passion. Don't wait until the sunshine fades to see this one.