Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Alchemist

Also see Susan's review of Night Must Fall

David Manis and Michael Milligan
Director Michael Kahn, artistic director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, has selected Ben Jonson's The Alchemist for the 150th production in his directing career. Kahn has done fine work with Jonson's scathing yet hilarious satires (Volpone and the lesser-known The Silent Woman) in the past, and the current production demonstrates that gullible people seeking unearned and unimagined success are always in fashion.

On James Noone's expansive and elegant set, three con artists—Subtle (David Manis), Face (Michael Milligan), and Dol Common (Kate Skinner)—The Alchemist set up shop to entrap Londoners looking for an easy payoff. While alchemy, the supposed transformation of base metal into gold, is the basis of the scam, Kahn's updated view touches on more recent forms of belief, such as feng shui and praying for prosperity. (Interestingly, one line that seems a reference to contemporary political discourse actually comes directly from Jonson's original.)

Jonson created a vivid gallery of people willing to make fools of themselves for the sake of fortune, and this production gives them a few modern tweaks. Shopkeeper Abel Drugger (Jeff Biehl) is a spaced-out hippie for whom "tobacco" is a euphemism; the pompous minister Tribulation Wholesome (Timothy Thomas) has the ripe enunciation and blinding white suit of a television preacher; and Sir Epicure Mammon (David Sabin), a rich man seeking godlike powers, is costumed to resemble a familiar icon of American excess.

Milligan is a manic delight as Subtle, who shifts from one disguise to another (in costumes designed by Murell Horton) to meet the needs of each client: by turns he's a mad scientist with enormous goggles (assisted by Manis as the requisite hunchbacked, German-accented servant), a tie-dyed guru, an Irish priest, a southern Bible-thumper and a karate master. As Dol, prostitute and co-conspirator, Skinner brings her full-bodied appeal to costumes ranging from the lascivious to the unearthly.

Among the rest of the cast, Sabin demonstrates his eagerness to go far beyond the point of dignity; Nick Cordileone gets to show off as a law clerk who dreams of gambling success; and Alex Morf is adorable as a schoolboy with short pants and big ambitions.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
The Alchemist
October 6th —November 22nd
By Ben Jonson
Dol Common, a prostitute: Kate Skinner
Subtle: David Manis
Face, alias Jeremy, butler to Lovewit: Michael Milligan
Dapper, a lawyer's clerk: Nick Cordileone
Abel Drugger, a young shopkeeper: Jeff Biehl
Sir Epicure Mammon: David Sabin
Pertinax Surly: Kyle Fabel
Ananias, a deacon: Robert Creighton
Tribulation Wholesome, a pastor: Timothy Thomas
Kastril, a wealthy young man: Alex Morf
Dame Pliant, his sister, a young widow: Rachel Holt
Lovewit, master of the house: Wynn Harmon
Neighbors: Chris Dinolfo, Nicole Halmos, Brian MacDonald, Cameron McNary
Officers: Felipe Cabezas, Brit Herring
Directed by Michael Kahn
Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

Photo: Scott Suchman

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