“Madmen like us reinvent the world” a Spoiler-free Review of Born With Teeth at OSF

 At last, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival mounts a play about the festival’s namesake. Born With Teeth by Liz Duffy is one of the ten plays in OSF’s season, running in repertory with Macbeth in the Angus Bowmer Theater. Directed by Rob Melrose, this play brings mythic figures of the literary world to life, showing them as the flawed human beings they were.

Set in 1593 London, this play riffs on the newfound scholarly discovery that William Shakespeare most likely collaborated with Christopher Marlowe when writing the Henriad. Over the next ninety minutes, the two men bicker in the back room of a tavern, trying to get enough words on the page before they’re at each other’s throats. We are also introduced to the world of Elizabethan politics- “We have more spies than there are crimes to spy out, and someone has to pay” ” as Shakespeare says to the audience at the top of the play. The two are constantly looking over their shoulders, on edge wondering if they are truly alone. One wrong move and their heads could be on a pike. As their relationship shifts and changes, the audience is never quite sure if these authors are about to throw things at each other or make out. By the end, the play leaves us with a question- what are you willing to sacrifice for greatness? 

For those not in the English Lit department, The Henriad is the collective name for three plays in Shakespeare’s canon written in sequence- Richard the 2nd, Henry the Fourth Part One, and Henry the Fourth Part Two. The cultural perception of Shakespeare is the wise writer with the divine gift of poetry that speaks to the human experience. In this production, however, he is much more vulnerable. Played by  Bradley James Tejeda, Will is a soft-spoken man who hasn’t had his big break and is just trying to put food on the table as a writer. We see a Will who is torn between his love for writing and the fear of losing everything he loves. 

The other end of this equation is Christopher Marlowe, played by Alex Purcell. While his name has fallen to obscurity since his death four hundred and thirty-three years ago, at the time Marlowe was far more popular than Shakespeare. His adaptations of Doctor Faustus and the history of Edward the Second were big hits on the Tudor stage. But he wasn’t just a playwright- some scholars speculate he was also a spy in Queen Elizabeth the First’s court. In this interpretation, Kit is a man convinced of his own greatness, all swagger and bravado as he needles Will to spill his secrets. But as the play rolls along, the audience learns that it’s all an act, covering for a deep longing for a different life. Like Will, he is also torn- between his political allegiances and a desire to be free of responsibility. 

While anyone can enjoy this, it would be most appreciated with a knowledge of the people and politics of Elizabethan England. Luckily, the festival has you covered! Before you see the show, catch the Born With Teeth Preface at Churchill Hall. It is a Thirty-minute talk by a member of OSF’s company that goes over the “history, background…themes, and production choices.” for the show. By the end, you will be perfectly primed for a fantastic night at the theater.

Born With Teeth is performing until October 13th, so there is plenty of time to see this fantastic piece of theater. OSF even has a special offer for college students! Simply call the Box Office ( at 800-219-8161 ) or swing by in person with your student ID, and get up to two tickets for each show at a discounted rate. More information can be found here, and be sure to get tickets for the Preface to learn even more about this fascinating show. 

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