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Season Info

Sunfire Man
By Leslie Stevens


(Clockwise from upper left) Robert O'Reilly, Don Woodruff,
Richard Lineback, Alex Zonn, Rue Knapp, and Augie Tribach


Director
Set Design
Lighting Design
Assistant Director
Technical Director
Costume Coordinator
 

Terrence Shank
Gene Mazzanti
Terrence Shank
Ayers Baxter
Thomas Van Buren
Don Woodruff
 

CAST (in order of appearance):

The Actress
Sir Francis Walsingham
Gifford
Polleye
Skeres
Marlowe
Frizer
Ballard
Bishop
Bradley
Minstrel
Sir Owen Hopton
Queenswatch Wyld
Second Watch
Queen’s Messengers
 
Dee Croxton
Rue Knapp
Alex Zonn
Robert O’Reilly
Richard Lineback
Augie Tribach
Don Woodruff
Ron Morhous
Jon M. Benson
Andrew Marzec
Zeb Thomas Sheppard
Garth Pillsbury
Wayne Liebman
Peter Morris
Jon Benson
Wayne Liebman
Richard Molnar
Peter Morris

 

The main action of the play takes place in and around London and at a Catholic seminary in Rheims, France, between the years 1587 and 1595.


The Mysterious Marlowe

What kind of man was Christopher Marlowe? This was the question in the coroner’s mind on summer’s day in 1593. There were many strange tales circulating. The dead man had been in trouble before. Some said he held dangerous, shocking views. It was rumored that, while still a clerical student at Cambridge, he had been involved in a secret mission for the Queen in foreign parts and was awarded his M.A. only after royal intervention. He had friends in high places, yet there were ugly rumors of treason. A warrant for his arrest had been issued only two weeks before his death. Witnesses at the inquest spoke of a tavern brawl, daggers drawn suddenly in anger. A verdict was rendered and Ingram Frizer, Marlowe’s assailant, was issued a royal pardon based on a plea of self-defense. What kind of man was Christopher Marlowe? Four centuries later, questions are still being asked.

Little is known of Marlowe’s childhood beyond the facts that he was reared in a family of shoemakers, began his studies at a later age than most young men of his day, and arrived in London at a time when drama was beginning to emerge as public entertainment. Unlike Shakespeare, who arrived in London about the same time, Marlowe seems to have had no desire to act. It was writing which appealed to him. With the exception of his translations of the Roman Poets Lucan and Ovid and his last, most sensuous poem Hero and Leander, he wrote dramatic tragedies. While most Elizabethan dramaturgy was filled with ghosts, phantoms and comic relief, Marlowe was essentially a rationalist and his plays, avoiding "popular entertainments," dealt with the corruption of power, the search for self-knowledge, with human frailty and folly.

The first and most celebrated of his plays to be performed during his short lifetime was Tamburlaine The Great, written in two parts. Subsequent works were The Massacre At Paris, Dido, Queen of Carthage, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, and Doctor Faustus. His use of blank verse was unprecedented and is generally believed to have strongly influenced Shakespeare; likewise, his remarkable use of hyperbole. 

Information about Marlowe in fragmentary at best. It can be presumed that he turned away from taking Holy Orders because his mind was too independent, his utterances too radical, his habits too unconventional. The theatre of the time represented everything that was new and daring and opposed to the stuffy respectability of the middle class. It stood for freedom of speech and thought and behavior. At this same point in history all Europe was divided by an ideological barrier. "Protestant" and "Catholic" were not just religious labels but political ones. In Elizabeth’s England, the man who questioned the views of authority could lose his livelihood and even his life.

Marlowe was known to be friendly with a family named Walsingham. Sir Francis Walsingham, until his death, was the head of Elizabeth’s Secret Service, raising it to a high pitch of efficiency, and training his men to break codes, forge documents and reseal letters. Fifty-three of his agents were planted in key positions all over Europe. Whether Marlowe was one of them is unproven. One thing is sure: Marlowe could not have lived on his earnings as a writer, as companies paid only about five pounds for new play-scripts, no matter how many performances were given. (Shakespeare made his fortune as a "sharer," that is as an actor and co-manager.)

The cause, date and time of Marlowe’s death remained a mystery for over three centuries until, in 1925, the actual written inquest was discovered. At the time of his death, Marlowe was in the company of three men, Frizer, Robert Polleye and Nicholas Skeres, all three of whom worked for Sir Francis Walsingham. Polleye and Skeres were the witnesses who testified that Frizer had killed Marlowe in self-defense "with a dagger delivered over the eye and into the brain." Since the publication of these facts, various scholar’s theories and hypotheses continue to surface. A favorite, possibly supported by the fact that Marlowe’s grave has never been found, is that Marlowe was not killed at the tavern in Deptford Strand, but was spirited away and hidden abroad, where he wrote all the plays attributed to Shakespeare.

*     *     *

Shakespeare often tells us certain truths through his clowns or fools. In As You Like It, Touchstone’s speech may well mirror that author’s view of the life and work of Marlowe:

When a man’s verse cannot be understood,
Nor a Man’s good wit seconded with the
Forward child Understanding, it strikes
A man more dead than a great reckoning
In a little room.
The mystery of Marlowe may never be resolved, nor the actual events surrounding his death "in a little room" revealed. His plays continue to astound with their imagery and power, his life to intrigue and inspire.
 — Terrence Shank