Regarding the death of poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe in 1993, only three pieces of information are known. The inquest into his death, a reference to a bar brawl, and slanderous accusations of atheism. Thus begins Chocolate Moose Theatre’s CONSPIRACY!, a complex comedy that bends space, time, and truth. The play ended its four day run on January 24.
Playwright and co-director Martin Law knots the audience into the intrigue of Marlowe’s mysterious death. The play begins with a secret mission from the crown, in which Richard Bull (Dakota Wellman) and Jane Bull (Alexandra Petrachuk), a pair of sibling spies, are recruited to fake the death of playwright Christopher Marlowe (Kenny Struele). Richard and Jane must navigate the conspiracies around them as they run off into a tangled web of half-truths and historical inaccuracies. Writing with sharp and entertaining wit, Law weaves fact and fiction together. When asked what Christopher Marlowe would make of this work, Law told The Daily, “I think he would probably turn in his grave a bit, but he might have a chuckle.”
Playful and inventive, CONSPIRACY!’s actors never held back for a moment. The humour of Marlowe’s character was not lost in Struele’s acting. He had an enthusiastic stage presence as a foul, horny, hilarious drunk that could barely walk in a straight line. The events surrounding Marlowe may have involved serious matters of church and state, but Marlowe himself was riotously blunt and intoxicated throughout the play. To add to the ridiculous, Broomstick, a witch-fearing Scotswoman played by Katherine Turnbull, made the audience laugh until they cried. Turnbull turned the already comedic character into a truly excellent one, never failing to liven the absurdity of the show with unrestrained eccentricity.
Wellman and Petrachuk were a brilliant pair of leads. Their familial bickering and banter charmed the audience. Whether they were running from the crown, dragging a corpse across the stage, or arguing over an ex-husband, the two never left the audience bored. Wellman captured the quirkiness of Richard Bull perfectly, representing an unintelligent “intelligencer.” Petrachuk’s Jane Bull had a consistency that the shifting plot of CONSPIRACY! tended to lack. Her comedy was right on cue with moments of deep emotion that made the play even more intense. Leading into the climax of the play, everything began to unravel, but Petrachuk’s performance was consistently steadfast and brilliant throughout.
The acting and direction made for an animated show, but closer to the finale the plot became muddled. The overlapping conspiracies drawn throughout the play clashed in a messy, intense debate. This moment was sustained for one moment too long, and led to a lasting sense of confusion in the end. There was nothing subtle about the death-defying finale, with the playwright rising from the dead to rework history and live to be the Shakespeare we know.
Law told The Daily that “the only way I could explain how anything happened was that Christopher Marlowe’s spirit was reaching into my brain and forcing someone from the 21st century to resurrect him in place of Shakespeare.” Law found that the beauty of the comedy was realizing he knew nothing about Christopher Marlowe.
The playbill introducing the performance reades, “The play you are about to see may not be entirely historically accurate. Notwithstanding, it may not be entirely un-historically accurate. There are many ways to look at historical accuracy.” This single truth captures the creativity of CONSPIRACY! and, in Law’s own words, encourages “a sense of just how little we know.” A comedy with a penchant for disaster, this play likely kept audiences intrigued long after the final bow.