Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Alchemist Fails to Produce Gold
Also see Bob's review of Lucky Me
The more than 400-year-old comedy is set in the suburban London home of the genial Lord Lovewit. Lovewit has fled in order to escape the Plague, leaving his home in the care of his butler, Jeremy. A scamp, Jeremy is using the Lovewit house as the headquarters for the operation of his schemes to defraud a bevy of avaricious fools. Principal among his schemes is convincing victims that he can turn base metal into gold. Another fraud is the promise of marriage to an alleged high born lady. Jeremy has assumed the guise of "Captain Face," and recruited fellow commoners, the rogue Subtle, and prostitute Dol Common to aid and abet him.
In short order, there follows the introduction of a parade of greedy secular and clerical fools who are subjected to a variety of complicated frauds, some of which involve disguises. Frankly, I found some of the detail impenetrable. This caused the various victims of Face and his accomplices to blend into one another as they were rapidly trotted in and out either singly or in tandem spouting dialogue the humor and complexity of which were difficult to suss out. Judging by the paucity of laughter, various comments I overheard at the intermission, and the two dozen or thereabout intermission walkouts, I was not alone.
Contributing to the problem are some of the British accents and phrasings employed by the cast. Particularly problematic in this area is Aedin Moloney (Dol Common). Despite this, Moloney's performance is richly demented and detailed. The extended tedium of the "first act" is alleviated a bit by a slapstick scene reminiscent of a The Three Stooges routine at its conclusion.
If you do attend The Alchemist, I recommend that you remain for the "second act." For, with its premises having been established (albeit indistinctly and indistinctively) and the clarifying return home of Lovewit, director Monte and her talented cast of farceurs do manage to provide some mildly amusing low comedy turns and a not uninteresting, sensible resolution. Every member of the ensemble performs nimbly and amusingly here.
However, the production's virtues, including a solid and handsome wood and stucco set with a narrow second story hallway running the length of its back wall, are not nearly sufficient to compensate for its dreary, interminable "first act".
The Alchemist continues performances through August 31, 2014, (Evenings: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays (except 8/24) 7:30 pm; Thursday - Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Saturday and Sunday 2 pm at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online: www.shakespeareNJ.org.
The Alchemist by Ben Jonson; adapted and directed by Bonnie J. Monte