Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist Streaming At Red Bull Theater!

This has only about a week left to go…streaming information is here!

screen capture by Ed Heinzelman

Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist is set in a time of plagues…Jacobean plagues…and the root story is cons conning the cons while the elite chill in the country. Now, I have not read Jonson’s original, but I think that I am safe in saying that Jeffrey Hatcher’s adaptation strays from Jonson because it is so damn pertinent to our current pandemic! And I doubt that Jonson’s audience would have gathered in all of the current plays nuances either. But I can’t say enough about Hatcher’s adaptation. It speaks to our times despite the out of date premise and the absurd situations depicted. This is a marvel of a play.

But certainly, this is a farce. And a laugh out loud farce. And one of the best that I’ve seen in quite a while.

Our story…a wealthy aristocrat had run off to the country to avoid the plague and left a serving man in the city to look after his home there. Said serving man has gotten involved with a charlatan and his female accomplice…they have been using the mansion as a base to fleece a number of wealthy gentry through any number of different devices. And…

“chaos is at hand!”

And I am guessing director Jesse Berger should get credit for casting The Alchemist…and the cast is marvelous…after watching this I can’t imagine who else could have played these roles more effectively. I have two favorites…we’ll get to that.

And Mr. Berger also has to get a standing ovation for his direction of this play. The complex timing, the movement of actors around the set, the fluid entries and exits, the swift and complicated costume changes all go on without a hitch…and he had the actors well prepared for what is a difficult text to speak and keep straight! The action is non-stop.

courtesy of the Red Bull Theater

We start with our nefarious threesome who have taken up shop in the mansion…Subtle, played by Reg Rogers, is by turns the alchemist, a seer, and a teacher…Face, played by Manoel Feliciano, who is the gentlemen who is left to care for the house plus a number of characters embodied to help Subtle with their scams…and Dol, played by Jennifer Sanchez, who is the female distraction or assistant or temptress in their schemes. And although they’ve all sworn to get along and co-operate and share their ill got gains…at any number of points they display a certain willingness to cheat the others out of theirs!

And it is these three who are most pressed upon to keep separate the various characters and roles they play as part of their schemes, straight along with their costuming and accents. Challenging in the least…but these three pull it off with gusto. Subtle to Face as they play through (much to the delight of this audience) “you wanted another part!”

Courtesy of the Red Bull Theater

And on to my favorites: Jacob Ming-Trent plays Mammon, “thou rotund sinner”. An apparently rich but greedy man of the neighborhood…and probably the character that lost the most in the various swindles…although often the source of his own undoing…and who actually gets the LAST word if not actually the last lines in the play. But Mr. Ming-Trent plays him with swagger and finesse and a bold love of life…and a certain pursuit of happiness that is a lot of fun to watch. And even though he is accompanied by his skeptical friend, Surly, here played by Louis Mastillo, Mammon never loses hope…until the bitter end. And Surly is my other favorite…ever skeptical…and just as devious as any other character. He often talks directly to the audience…informing them of the obvious or explaining his own actions…with the bravado of an extra in a mob movie, Brooklyn accent and all!

Courtesy of the Red Bull Theater

And we have a constant parade of others who seek advice, boons, requests, lessons, or an alchemist’s stone. Dapper, played by Carson Elrod, who is horribly unlucky at gambling and wishes that Subtle provide him with a familiar or spirit to bring him good luck at the gaming tables. You can probably guess where this ends up. But it gets pretty convoluted and hilarious before play’s end. Dugger, played by Nathan Christopher, a lovelorn tobacconist, who wants Subtle to advise a wealthy widow to select him as her next husband. The widow Pliant, played by Theresa Avia Lim, has more up her sleeve and apparently skirts than is apparent at first glance. Did I forget to tell you this was also something of a bawdy tale? My bad…it certainly is! Ananais, an Antibaptist who seeks a have a stone of his own to turn base metals into gold. He resists handing over payment without results which also leads to unexpected turmoil and comedy…and maybe a bit of bawd as well. Ananais is played by Stephen Derosa. And finally Kastril, Pliant’s brother who seeks help from Subtle to find a knight to marry his sister and lessons in argument! Allen Tedder provides us with a very outrageous Kastril.

Me thinks this version ends in a different; much different vein than Ben Jonson originally intended…but this one is sublime. So there you have it ” and a Shetland pony.”

As I said above, this streams online until February 14, 2022 and here is the link! It is a pay what you can presentation so please be as generous as you are able. I don’t think this play will disappoint you!

screen capture by Ed Heinzelman

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