Actors Brady Morales-Woolery and Dean Linnard in rehearsal for Born With Teeth, opening Friday, Sept. 1, at Aurora Theater. Credit: Scot Goodman.

Oh, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth! And so I was, which plainly signified that I should snarl and bite, play the dog.  —  W. Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part III

Aurora Theatre’s clever comedic production of Born with Teeth, which opens Friday, asks us to imagine a symbiotic relationship between two giants of Elizabethan theater — the then young up-and-coming actor and writer William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and the rockstar playwright Christopher (“Kit”) Marlowe (1564-1593), author of Tamburlaine and Doctor Faustus.

The Liz Duffy Adams production stars two talented and accomplished actors, Dean Linnard and Brady Morales-Woolery.

The action in Born with Teeth occurs between 1591 and 1593, although the actors speak modern English. It was a dicey political time in England then, not unlike our own. Queen Elizabeth I (reign 1558 – 1603) was a Protestant royal who feared perpetual threats to her life from her Catholic citizens and Catholic countries like Spain. In response, she established an extensive network of spies, one of whom is long thought to be the adventurous Kit Marlowe, a vocal atheist, who was killed under suspicious circumstances at age 29.

A spark ignited in Adam’s mind in response to an exciting 2016 literary discovery by scholars of The New Oxford Shakespeare. Computer analysis of Shakespeare’s Henry VI cycle showed that Shakespeare wrote them with a collaborator, and there is compelling evidence that the collaborator was Kit Marlowe.

The playwright explained to Berkeleyside that when she learned this news, “Instantly, the idea of getting them into a room together was incredibly interesting to me. Reading their work, you can’t help but be struck by the two radically different personalities and world views.”

“Then, while thinking about it, I happened to see the Belarus Free Theater’s Burning Doors by and about artists risking their lives to make theater under an authoritarian regime — and that’s when I knew why this play now.”

And so, the author imagines the two geniuses meeting in the private back room in a London tavern, where they collaborate. With Marlowe as the mentor who is losing political favor but the reticent Shakespeare as the more gifted of the two, their relationship goes through artistic and personal transformations as they spar and parry.

Aurora’s Artistic Director, Josh Costello, expressed to Berkeleyside that “Born With Teeth manages to do several things at once: bring two great artists to life on stage, reveal the perils of life, love, and art under authoritarian rule, and tell a tremendously compelling story about two men locked in a battle of wits and wills.”

“We’re living in a time of creeping authoritarianism,” Costello continued. “Born with Teeth shines a light on the insidious, powerful ways living under authoritarian rule compromises us and forces us to betray each other and ourselves. That Liz manages to explore these ideas in a play that’s also filled with joy, wit and human connection is a testament to her great abilities as a playwright.”

Live performances of Born with Teeth at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre run through Oct. 1. The play runs about 1 1/2 hours, with no intermission. Two weekly performances (Wednesday evenings and Sunday matinees) require wearing masks. For all other performances, masks will be encouraged but not required. Tickets are $20-$65. Streaming performances will run concurrently with in-person performances from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1 for 36 hours, from noon on the performance date to midnight the following day. For more information and tickets, visit or call 510-843-4822.

Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...