‘The Alchemist’ sparks laughter 400 years later

Actors rehearsed “The Alchemist,” a student-produced and acted play.

“Fortune, that favors fools, these two short hours/we wish away, both for your sakes and ours.”

So begins 17th century playwright Ben Jonson’s comedy “The Alchemist.” Director Nick O’Leary ’14 has added his own touches to recreate this classic, witty tale, which will amuse even modern audiences on Wednesday evening.

“The Alchemist” is the story of a crooked butler, Face, a fake alchemist, Subtle, and their partner in crime, Doll Common. When the plague forces an unsuspecting gentleman, Lovewit, to leave his London home, Face, Subtle and Doll Common devise an elaborate con scheme for London’s remaining upstanding citizens, and trouble ensues.

“Will they, won’t they pull off the perfect crime?” said Diane Chen ’14, who plays Face. “There are a lot of different people that come in, and we con them and use them to con other people.”

Chen recommends that playgoers look out for how the con artists react when their plan begins to unravel.

The physical comedy, ridiculous plot and hilarious panic give “The Alchemist” the “same farcical energy” that drives many modern comedic plays, O’Leary said.

“I was really excited to do a classic play that doesn’t get done very much,” he said. “[It’s] funny for a contemporary audience, even though it was written in 1610.”

O’Leary said that he likes to work with plays that reflect the magic of theater, such as characters that become different people by changing disguises.

Costume designers Gaia Santiago ’15 and Chiara Santiago ’15 said that O’Leary’s production utilizes three “layers” of costume design: 1920s neutral costume, 1600s costume and 1600s disguise. While the start of the play employs 1920s costumes, characters soon morph into the 17th century — at that moment costumes become a conglomeration of the 1920s and the 1600s, as the characters jump in and out of both worlds, Gaia Santiago said.

The costumes are influenced by “Tim Burton, Rodarte and crazy Alexander McQueen,” Gaia Santiago said. Doll Common’s costume, one of the designers’ favorite creations, is the most elaborate to allow the character to transform into a fairy during the play.

O’Leary chose to filter out antiquated jokes and words, while preserving the original iambic pentameter.

“For me, it’s been really exciting to be doing many different parts of the project, and putting together the pieces,” he said.

Chiara Santiago said that the Bentley Theater’s professional space, the costume shop and the theater department’s budget have eased the process of running a student-driven play.

“Since all the pressure is placed on us, it feels like we are in our own real world,” Chiara Santiago said.

“The Alchemist” runs from Wednesday to Friday in the Bentley Theater.

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