Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Alchemist

The prologue to Ben Jonson's play The Alchemist begins: "Fortune, that favours fools, these two short hours / We wish away..." It is a reminder that Jacobean plays rarely ran much over two hours.

If you have the good Fortune to see Red Bull Theater Company's production of The Alchemist, currently running at New World Stages in an adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, those hours will seem short indeed.

The cast is entirely game, and they bring off Jonson's witty comedy with remarkable aplomb. The setting, a London house abandoned by its owner during an outbreak of the plague, seems remarkably apt for New Yorkers in 2021, especially those of us who stuck it out during the height of COVID-19 deaths, having no country houses to retreat to when the going got rough.

Staying in the house are a trio of con artists: a servant named Face (Manoel Feliciano, who played the villainous De Flores in Red Bull's production of The Changeling), a fraudulent alchemist named Subtle (the oily Reg Rogers), and a cunning vixen named Dol Common (a stunning Jennifer Sanchez). It is Dol who takes the lead in this production, though, using her wit, beauty, and sexual prowess to get what she wants.

And what is it she wants? The same thing everyone wants in the world of The Alchemist: GOLD! Few people lust after the yellow metal as much as Sir Epicure Mammon, though, who is perhaps Jonson's most memorable character in the play. Mammon is a larger-than-life figure whose appetites rival those of nearly any other character from the period. In order to find his equal, one would have to look to such behemoths as William Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff.

Fortunately, Mammon is played in this production by Jacob Ming-Trent, who starred as Falstaff this summer in the Public Theater's production of Merry Wives. He fills the stage with laughter whenever he appears, aided by over-the-top costumes designed by Tilly Grimes (who also designed Red Bull's hysterical production of The Government Inspector, likewise adapted by Hatcher).

Other brilliant cast members include Stephen DeRosa as the anabaptist Ananais, Nathan Christopher as the tobacconist Abel Drugger, and Carson Elrod as the gambler Dapper. The plot picks up steam when Face and Subtle both get designs on a rich, sexy widow named Dame Pliant, played by Teresa Avia Lim (Cleopatra in GTG's Caesar and Cleopatra). But to get to her, they'll have to deal with her choleric brother Kastril (Allen Tedder) and the appropriately named Surly (Louis Mustillo).

Director Jesse Berger ably conducts this magnificent cast, and the set designed by Alexis Distler looks nice enough to live in--even if you have to weather a plague in order to stay there. Tickets are available now, so get them soon. The show is currently only running through December 19th.