BWW Reviews: THE ALCHEMIST at STNJ; This Rarely Produced Show Shines on the Madison Stage

"The world's turned Bedlam" - Ben Jonson

The Alchemist is a truly magical piece of theater, for more reasons than the name implies. This wholly entertaining, raucous show is now onstage at The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey (STNJ) and we suggest that you get your tickets now as it is sure to bring the theatre large audiences. Written by Ben Jonson, it was first performed in 1610. Considered his most renowned piece, the themes are as timely today as they were centuries ago. Greed, human folly and vanity are all a part of this delightful production.

While some theater groups have presented completely modernized versions of The Alchemist, Artistic Director, Bonnie Monte has thoughtfully adapted Jonson's script and she directs the show; a huge undertaking. Monte's inspiration for producing The Alchemist is truly interesting. Having avoided reading the play for many years, she picked up the script again this past winter. Monte said, "I became convinced that The Alchemist was possibly the funniest play I had ever encountered." She also stated, "Though written in modern English, the text is overflowing with archaic language, obtuse references, topical jokes and technical jargon from 450 years ago." Monte made at least 1,000 changes to Jonson's original text including the minor shifting of punctuation to hundreds of cuts, word changes and even deleting minor characters and locations. And, her changes have certainly given the play a new life as it moves seamlessly from scene to scene.

In The Alchemist, the merchant Lovewit flees London to avoid the plague leaving his opportunistic butler to reimagine himself as Captain Face, a character with a get rich quick mentality. Face collaborates with a fellow con man, Subtle and a local prostitute, Dol Common. Together they devise schemes with the promise of gold for a parade of gullible characters. And, with one ridiculous situation after another, this hilarious farce has a good many laugh out loud moments.

Monte has assembled a stellar cast of actors whose comedic talents are wonderfully utilized. Bruce Comer as Subtle is so convincing, you may start to believe his supernatural abilities. Jon Barker as Face is energetic and quick-witted; just what is needed to be a successful schemer. Aedin Moloney as Dol Common rounds out the trio of conspirators. Maloney masters the role of the clever, feisty harlot who proves she is as dastardly as her cohorts.

Enter, the greedy, the pious, and the vain, all ripe to be hoodwinked. James Michael Riley as Ananias, Jeffrey M. Bender as Drugger, and Seamus Mulcahy as Kastril are just some of the colorful characters who are taken in by the tricksters. And, it is the frequent comings and goings of townspeople and others that make the two-plus hours of this show move at a rapid pace.

Bravo to STNJ's Artistic Team whose creative elements perfectly compliment The Alchemist: costumes by Nikki Dehomme, scenic design by Jonathan Wentz, lighting design by Steven Rosen, and sound design by Karin Grabash.

Find out if the plans of three shysters can be foiled? The Alchemist, a classic comedy. is yours to enjoy as the summer winds down. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm. For tickets, call the Box Office at (973) 408-5600 or visit

Photo Credit: Jerry Dalia

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From This Author Marina Kennedy

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