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‘Cymbeline’ by Theatricum Botanicum; ‘Marlowe’ at Globe Playhouse; ‘Detective Sanchez’ by Teatro Urbano; ‘Quirks’ at Cast Theatre

A muscular woodsman hacks with a blunt spear at a fallen enemy, whose decapitated head, after a playful pause, bounces about 40 feet down a hillside, plopping center stage. Elsewhere, Roman soldiers in pagan Britain fall in battle like figures in an apparition.

Welcome to the enchanted woods of Topanga Canyon and the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum’s “Cymbeline.” Director Ellen Geer has wrapped the improbabilities of this late Shakespeare romance into a picnic basket romp.

The production is uneven--the scenes at the castle of King Cymbeline (Edgar Weinstock) are flat compared to the flavor of those in the forest. And the opening, crucial plot motivation (delivered by Randi Pareira) is such a blur that you’d better read Act I, scene I before getting into the car.

But the production’s rewards are multiple: Geer hurtles her troupe into the wild flora and craggy paths of her canyon playground with verve. Meanwhile, Bob Machray’s wonderful, bulky Roman villain steals the show with insidious charm (his boudoir stealth is delicious). Melora Marshall’s lovelorn heroine Imogen is vigorous and spontaneous. And Paul Mercier’s heroic blond outcast whips about with matinee flair.

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Sturdy and even princely in primitive roles are Cymbeline’s abducted sons (Richard Tyson and Fred Zelinka). A loyal retainer (Mark Voland) lends events an oaken serenity. And a voiceless, fawning, crawling hanger-on (Deborah Swisher) scrawls a gargoyle image.

The autumnal undertone in “Cymbeline” is not here. But the play’s turbulence is vivid. The show’s texture (particularly Lanny Broyles’ fight choreography and Abra Flores’ costumes) is smartly pagan.

Performances run at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Sundays at 3 p.m., through Aug. 28. Tickets: $8.50-$10 (under 12 free); (213) 455-3723.

‘Marlowe’

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In this world premiere of a play about the secret life of Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare is a supporting character, at one point graciously taking playwrighting tips at the dawn of his career from the already established Marlowe.

The thrust of the drama (subtitled “An Elizabethan Tragedy”), written, researched, and directed by Francis Hamit, is Marlowe’s double life as a spy in the service of his queen. Staged at the Globe Playhouse and launching a canon of Marlowe’s plays to be staged by the Shakespeare Society of America, the production is historically gripping, portraying the arrogance of a genius who played too many cards for his own good.

Marlowe (an earnest if not sufficiently dangerous Peter Sprague) is recruited by the early British Secret Service to spy on the Jesuits. He has an offhand, albeit open, homosexual relationship with Thomas Kyd. He befriends Shakespeare--a sublime, convincing performance by Lawrence Levy, uncannily resembling the Bard. Finally, we see him murdered by treacherous and callow British agents in a tavern. (Marlowe, who was the same age as Shakespeare, did die in a tavern brawl in 1593 at 29.)

The scholarly conjecture in this costume drama is tantalizing. The trouble is that while the acting is generally fine, particularly from corrupt Steve Welles and crook-backed Tom Stitzel, the staging is too measured and halting.

The lighting should be scarred with stark shadows, the staging cries out for theatricality, the pacing demands a discernible momentum. Here we have intrigue of the highest order played to the beat of tableaux drama. Marlowe’s grisly death is dramatized stage rear instead of in the audience’s face.

Playwright Hamit must learn to trust a director other than himself. This is a play with promise. And it’s the kind of original work tailored for the Globe. Now bring on some imagination.

Performances run at 1107 N. Kings Road., West Hollywood, Wednesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through June 26. Tickets: $10.50-$12.50; (213) 654-5623.

‘Detective Sanchez’

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Teatro Urbano (an L.A. urban offshoot of Teatro Campesino) has returned to the boards with an East Los Angeles Chicano murder mystery, subtitled “The Ortiz Case,” at the Haunted Studios.

The production, written by Alejandro Nandyelli and directed by Rene Rodriquez, has a perfectly pitched, terse tone deliciously borrowed from a million tough noir movies and novels. And in the hands of Richard Lopez’ recovered drunk cop, with strong humorous support from sidekick/bartender Ernesto Hernandez, the show is a fetching diversion.

Set in the Los Angeles of the ‘50s, the theme is racial prejudice, in the vein of “Zoot Suit.” Production values are creaky, an obligatory girlfriend (who doubles as the obligatory no-good dame) is weakly cast, and a flirtatious flophouse landlady is a cliche. Despite these setbacks, the production’s consistent style and durable paperback tone remain endearing.

Performances are at 6419 Hollywood Blvd. (second floor), Saturdays at 8 p.m., through June 25. Tickets: $8-$10; (213) 227-8839.

‘Quirks’

It’s rare to find genuine child actors in an adult play who can hold their own with the grown-ups.

The comedy, “Quirks,” at the Cast Theatre, is about a couple (deftly portrayed by Kevin Scannel and the playwright, Leslie Ray) who have a lousy relationship. We watch them on their first date and then catch their breakup three years later. Sounds rather ordinary but it isn’t.

The show’s sharp conceptual stroke is using children as alter egos to plumb the childish interior of these characters--to dramatize the kid inside who’s still screwing up the adult.

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Director Paul Kreppel draws superb performances from Tanya Fenmore and Brice Beckham as the respective alter egos. They’re not merely cute or charming. They’re engaging young people who grab and sustain your attention with almost unnatural poise.

Only a decision to use another child (Marc Smollin in fedora and wide lapels and tie) to play the woman’s father breaks the magic spell. And it’s illogical. An old man is an old man.

Performances are at 804 N. El Centro Ave., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., through July 3. Tickets: $12 ; (213) 462-0265.


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