Front Row Reviews

“Born With Teeth” Exposes Two Poets’ Love & Terror

Originally published at

“Born With Teeth” is a dynamic presentation of theater art directed by Josh Costello who brings us an electrifying encounter between two opposing brilliant minds.

Playwright Liz Duffy Adams orchestrates combative meetings between the obstinate, renowned playwright, Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (powerful Dean Linnard), and the unknown, aspiring Will Shakespeare (intriguing Brady Morales-Woolery). The two actors are magnetic as Kit and Will, who meet for the first time in a back room of an Elizabethan tavern. They are going to collaborate on writing a historical play about King Henry VI.

The two poets clash from the beginning, opposites in economic status, manners, and personalities. Kit is bold and outspoken, Will, subdued and elusive.

Both writers are enveloped in Queen Elizabeth I’s oppressive regime, where only Protestantism is tolerated. The Queen believes that the divine will of God flows through the Church of England, giving her absolute authority. Anyone suspected of promoting Catholicism or atheism can be arrested, tortured, and killed. Spies abound, and Marlowe spies for the Queen.

Linnard, as Marlowe, churns out torrents of feelings, switching personalities like a schizophrenic on speed. Seductively, he paces, dances, and leaps onto the long oak table that dominates the stage. At times, he sensually seduces Will while they enact loving characters from their play in progress.

In contrast, Will dodges, weaves, and improvises because he needs money to support his family. Will adopts a politically uninvolved position. Like many struggling writers, Will is attempting to survive on his untested talents. He states to the over-exposed Kit: “I want to be invisible.” While Marlowe shines like fireworks, Will earns our compassion.

Under their verbal duels, they vie for each other’s respect and love. Even though Kit taunts and dares his competitor, they develop a deep, shared sensitivity in their work. As they touch hands while reading a passage from the play, we sense their entanglement:

“O, let me entreat thee cease. Give me thy hand,”
(He takes Kit’s hand; they are acting the scene.)
“That I may dew it with my mournful tears.
O, could this kiss be printed in thy hand!
So, get thee gone, that I may know my grief.
Go; speak not to me; even now be gone.
O, go not yet!”

Here we see Will being seduced by the attentions of the greatest poet of the age. Yet, the threat of exposure, torture, and beheading looms over him. Will he be betrayed? Whom can he trust?

Scenic Designer Kate Boyd realistic 16th century furnishings, including a beer cart and a striking antique chandelier, immerse us in the Elizabethan era. Costume Designer Ulises Alcala has created intricate attire that echoes Shakespeare’s time and striking modern fashions.

“Born With Teeth” rekindles our passion for theater and poetry. Through Kit and Will—bully and victim, show-off and plodder, egotist and escapist—Adams reminds us that genius comes in many disguises.

We are also reminded of the power of politics over our minds, hearts, and beliefs. Both Kit and Will are under the constant shadow of surveillance from many sources, similar to the data that defines us today.

Don’t miss Aurora’s dangerous and brilliant dance with two great poets.

“Born With Teeth” by Liz Duffy Adams, directed by Josh Costello, scenic design by Kate Boyd, costumes designed by Ulises Alcala, at Aurora Theatre, Berkeley. Info: – to Sunday, October 1, 2023.

Cast: Dean Linnard and Brady Morales-Woolery

Photo: Kevin Berne