We Love Arts

We Love Arts: The Alchemist


David Manis as Subtle, Jeff Biehl as Abel Drugger and Michael Milligan as Face
in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, directed by Michael Kahn.
Photo by Scott Suchman.

I can’t speak for any other reviewer, but for me the most enjoyable reviews to write are the ones where I really enjoyed a production but still have some minor quibbles. A little Monday-morning quarterbacking is fun for everyone if you don’t take it too seriously and aren’t a jerk about it. Perfect productions are less fun because there’s less to say about them. Quality theater involves a very subtle energy that’s difficult – if not impossible – to convey to a reader. Bad theater is less fun still because you have to be a special flavor of jerk to enjoy smack-talking someone’s baby, and a lot of people put a lot of energy into putting something on stage.

The least enjoyable kind of theater to write about is the kind that’s always puzzling to see, considering how many people come to it with so much passion: the simply okay, unengaging and largely forgettable production.

Care to guess where The Alchemist fits into this?

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We Love Arts

We Love Arts: but Lear is unlovable

Photo courtesy of

courtesy of ‘Joel Washing’

In brief: this is Shakespeare as torture porn.

It’s tough to organize this review. Put marginally less briefly, this production of King Lear pretty much sacrifices the story in order to wallow around in physical violence, partially demolished sets, thrusting and grunting and marital rape. It has a lot of visual appeal with regards to the sets and costuming but that’s not enough to recommend it.

That’s not really the fault of anyone on stage. With one significant exception every one of the actors does a nice job, though only Jonno Roberts as Edmund really puts in an notable performance. Others suffer from some odd choices that may or may not be their fault, such as the painful sing-song that Joaquin Torres uses when voicing Edgar’s alter-ego Tom.

The truly offensive content – and there’s a fair amount – likely all can be laid at the feet of the director, Robert Falls. If you’re going to go anyway you may want to skip the rest of this review, as it’ll be filled with spoilers for how several scenes are staged. That it’s possible for there to be a spoiler for a four-hundred year old work is an interesting fact in and of itself, I think, but not a reason to subject yourself to this production.

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We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Ion

Photo courtesy of shakespearetheatreco

courtesy of shakespearetheatreco

Yes, there are puppets. More on that later.

I chose the above picture out of STC’s flickr stream to give you some idea about some of the unusual choices that director Ethan McSweeny takes in adapting this Euripides play. The caption for the above photo is Patricia Santomasso in rehearsal for the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of “Ion” And she’s not rehearsing a post-death pose – that’s from a period when her character, a member of the chorus, is sunning herself on a rock. At the temple of Delphi. Since she and the other handmaidens are dressed and behave like crass American tourists on vacation.

As Dave Barry would say, I Am Not Making This Up. Continue reading