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The Alchemist at Nothing Special Productions | Theater review

A young and eager cast turns up the volume on Ben Jonson’s Jacobean comedy.


Thanks to his notoriously tight comedic structures, Jonson is one of the few Jacobean playwrights still frequently produced. Nothing Special performs Peters’s lightly modernized new adaptation of this 1610 work in the tiny Heartland Studio with a high-octane silliness that gives it enthusiastic charm but tramples any subtlety within the script.

Two charlatans, Subtle and Face, run a jack-of-all-trades quackery parlor dedicated to the art of separating fools from money. They bilk a parade of covetous and bizarre characters who come looking to turn brass to gold or encounter fairy queens. Andrew Marchetti’s turn as Subtle, the eponymous alchemist, is shrewd and frequently hilarious. The original verse is retained and handled well by the cast, which takes every opportunity for brash interpretation and comedic ridiculousness, filling the mostly bare stage with a volcano of energy.

All this eagerness boils into a wash of volume, as each actor seems determined to push the decibel level to new territory, a difficult task given that the first five minutes are pure yelling. This young cast has the feel of a group playing to friends, making it both infectious and prone to going overboard. The effect is one of mashing the play into a long attempt to elicit laughs from the audience and obliterating any hope for a quiet moment with the characters. At two and a half hours, the relentless barrage of gags grows tiresome.

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