Top Ten Reasons to See The Baron’s Men: Reason 2 – Ben Jonson’s Alchemy

Posted: April 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

When I say Ben Jonson’s Alchemy I am not referring to the steroid abuse of the Canadian Olympic Sprinter in the 80’s, although this Jonson’s acerbic wit can make your scrotum tighten up.  Got your interest?  Let’s talk about plot

I wish I could tell you for whom to cheer and whom to hiss, but Mr. Jonson does not make it so easy.  There are no heroes in this play, per se, but only anti-heroes.  There are definitely three main characters: Subtle, Face and Doll, whom we follow as they connive money from other undesirables; but,  it does not make them heroic in any way.  With the plague setting  upon London, our three anti-heroes find themselves in residence of a magnificent mansion and use it as the center piece to their devious schemes.  Posing as an Alchemist, Subtle, the mastermind of our tale, uses the bait of the Philosophers Stone (Jonson did not make it the Sorcerer’s Stone for us Yanks) to cheat people out of their money.  But before we become too sympathetic to our pigeons we are reminded that no honest man can be conned, and the perspective targets are all too willing to expose their greed, lust, and wrath, marking them as easy prey for the ever-angling trio of grifters.  The lustful knight who mocks chivalric ideals, the wrathful Kastrel who wells with hate larger than his stature should allow, the greedy Pastor Tribulation Wholesome whose piety falls before his desire to counterfeit money; all these characters prove Jonson a master of creating archetypal sinners for the audience to hold up for inspection.  In the end, we welcome the open crookedness of our trio compared to the hypocrisy of their sheep.

As far as playwrights from the 1600’s go Ben Jonson is to Shakespeare as Plato was to Socrates.  The Bard came first, a storm of genius that flooded the theatre world, but Ben Jonson perfected the storm and made it dance.  Yes, Dance!  There will be dancing, a nod to the fact that Jonson was one of the first to incorporate dancing and music into theatre.  He also pioneered the grand set design and elaborate costumes, which is one of the reasons Director Casey Weed chose The Alchemist as the Spring play.  Casey Also noted that “This town is saturated with Shakespeare, I wanted to do something different.”  As to the content of the play, bring your naughty side.  “Shakespearean era comedies- and Jonson’s The Alchemist particularly- is almost always bawdier than anyone thinks, but it gets downplayed by most troupes so as not to ‘offend the cultured’” states Casey, but he tends not to agree,  “To hell with that. Play it like he wrote it.”

The modern-day con-man film can draw a direct line to The Alchemist.  The Sting, Grifters, even Ocean’s 11 (the original, not that Matt Damon crap) all borrow from the ideas Jonson put on stage 400 years earlier.  Similarities between The Alchemist and Se7en, the unblinking look at sin in the 20th century are also easy to make.  Casey Weed is providing our modern day culture with an unvarnished look at the very nature of man, as viewed by people that were much closer to death than we will ever know.  Go see The Baron’s n and glimpse into the unpleasantness that is the human soul…and get a good laugh as well.

The Baron’s Men Present – The Alchemist by Ben Jonson

Thu-Sat evenings at 8:00 from April 12th to April 28th

The Curtain Theatre, Austin, Texas!/events/278532692221245/


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