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Murdering Marlowe 'Ods bodkins, good gentlefolk, there's an intriguing premise at work in Charles Marowitz's English Renaissance thriller Murdering Marlowe. If you have a passing interest in Elizabethan theater and the world of Shakespeare, this will be your goblet of tea. Scribbler Marowitz has turned the immortal Bard of Avon into a green-eyed, envious young lout who plots the death of fellow playwright, the honored Christopher Marlowe, playmaker of such popular London hits as Tamburlaine and Dr. Faustus. Sweet William becomes the biggest opportunist in town, a struggling upstart who paves the way to success by hiring thugs to ice his rival and, to really gild the lily, bed Marlowe's mistress and make her his own. The basic premise is shaky, but there's so much love for the ripe language of the time that we forgive the skewed painting of Shakespeare and focus on the gilded frame that's bright and dazzling. This play is a treat to listen to. We're caught in the net from the very first scene, young Shakespeare in prayer as he confesses his hatred, fear and obsession over Marlowe. He compares him to a "giant compass so wide-extended that his north cannot his south observe," whose "dark genius is to mine like a firebrand to a lighted straw." This honey-tongued language sounds so true we smile as it hits our ears, for it contains both reverence and parody. Actor J. Cameron Cooper has a long history with Shakespeare, so it must come as something of a delight for him to actually be playing the Bard. Lean as sea grass, he's a passionate poet brimming with ideas and hot for married lady Emilia. He reads those sweet Elizabethan phrases of Marowitz with tender feeling and ease of command. Scott McWhirter is Marlowe encapsulated: usually drunk and continuously horny. He's dark and conflicted, and McWhirter eats him up. As conspirators Poley and Frizer, Sam Martinez and Anthony Torres play them with relish; Haley Cooper, as free-wielding Emilia, overlays her sexiness with wiles; L. Robert Westeen blusters convincingly as interrogator and royal toady Maunder; and Scott Holmes, as theater producer Henslow with one eye on the cashbox, mines all the comedy out of his toadying character. While we never really understand what drives genius Shakespeare to this murder most foul, the Elizabethan spider web of treachery, deceit, debauchery and high-soaring language is amply on display. Marowitz flies his banner high; Country Playhouse waves it with panache. Through November 17. 12802 Queensbury. 713-467-4497. — DLG

The Oldest Profession Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Paula Vogel has turned her attention to prostitution and created a play about four women of a certain age who turn tricks in a Westside hotel in New York. The set is stark and grassless, with a park bench that's extra-long because it has to contain four full-bodied women sitting side-by-side. This arrangement might have worked on a proscenium stage but is a disaster here on a thrust stage. Playwright Vogel has imagined these women as sweet ladies, caregivers to lonely older men. Carolyn Montgomery plays the madam and creates an interesting, though unrealistic, portrait of a den mother. Cheryl Tanner plays Vera and makes us care for her. Lisa Schofield plays Edna, an underwritten part and a waste of her vast talents. Mary Lou Roschback plays Ursula, so angry and charmless one might well pay not to sleep with her. Sandi Morgan plays Lillian with an unnecessary intensity. There are jokes, and director David Holloway has the actors "sell" these. The going price for sex seems to be $10, a cheap joke. As the ladies die, they shed a raincoat to reveal hot pants with sparkles and do a sort of nightclub wriggle — the formulaic writing ensures that many such tortures lie in wait for us. Schofield has the most fun with this, and her exit lines draw the biggest laughs, but these jokes are borrowed from Mae West. Theatre Southwest is an important artistic landmark outside the Loop, and has had many brilliant productions — this is not one of them. If your taste is for weak, grim, sentimental comedy, give it a shot. But be warned that it's a four-minute Saturday Night Live skit stretched far beyond its breaking point. Through November 17. 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — JJT

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