Robert Frost once said, "Poetry is what gets lost in translation." To this I add, theatre is what gets lost in streaming. Please don't misunderstand: I am totally grateful for all the theatre-related material available during the covid-induced shutdown. I loved, eg, the Sondheim 90th birthday celebration, the plays that The Mint shared, and new work such as PCP/NYC's Standing on the Edge of Time and MasterVoices Myths and Hymns. And I don't know what the ticket price would have been if Meryl Streep, Audra McDonald, and Christine Baranski sang "Ladies in Lunch" in person, though I do know I couldn't afford it.
|Manoel Felciano, Reg Rogers
Photo: Carol Rosegg
But: theatre is about being there, in the moment, with those wonderful living people on stage in front of you, sharing their talents and working their butts off. Eight performances a week they are shot out of a cannon and expected to be perfect--every time, with no pauses, pratfalls, or do-overs. Live performance is in many ways the bravest of arts, and perhaps the most human. It's all of us, in a room, interacting in real time, having an experience that will never be--can never be--repeated.
All this leads me to the rollicking Red Bull Production of Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, as adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by Jesse Berger. It is that most theatrical form of theatre, the farce, full of schemes and changing identities and bawdy humor and pointed satire and greed and hypocrisy and, yes, doors swinging open and closed as near-miss follows near-miss.
Hatcher's adaptation is first-rate--clear, funny, and witty. In one aspect I think he actually improves on the original (it would be a spoiler to say anything more). There are some disappointing facets to his work. For example, there is no good reason why one female character spends much of the first scene wearing so little clothing that she is in danger of flashing the audience. For another example, having the one Black character, a full-out fop, suddenly spew a "Goddamn motherfuckers!" is, if not racist, at least racially uncomfortable and cheap. But the play's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses (which actually makes the disappointments that much more disappointing).
Berger's direction is as madcap, quick, and fluid as one could wish. And, oh, that cast. Reg Rogers as the alchemist delights with a performance that boasts the stamina, speed, and reflexes of an Olympian. Also delightful are, well, everyone else: Nathan Christopher, Stephen DeRosa, Carson Elrod, Manoel Felciano, Teresa Avia Lim, Jacob Ming-Trent, Louis Mustillo, Jennifer Sánchez, and Allen Tedder.
The design elements are attractive, appropriate, and hard-working. Alexis Distler provided the handsome, clever set, Tilly Grimes the splendid costumes. Cha See and Greg Pliska (lighting and sound design, respectively) also contributed richly.
The Alchemist was the second show I saw after that long, painful covid entertainment desert, but the first one was mediocre, and this one was so much fun, and so thoroughly theatrical, that I consider it my real first time back. Thank you, Red Bull. Missed you a lot.