Tonight at 8 p.m. in the Balch Arena Theater, the Tufts Department of Drama and Dance will present “The Alchemist,” its first show of the season. Laurence Senelick, the Fletcher Professor of Drama and Oratory, directs Barry Edelstein’s adaptation of Ben Jonson’s 1610 comedy.
Senelick explained that the play is about self-assured “tricksters pulling the wool over the eyes of a number of fools and knaves and lechers by going for the very things they want the most.” In the play, a trio of con artists, Subtle (freshman Adam Bangser), Face (senior Andrew Kluger) and Dol Common (senior Lara Vancans) feign necromantic ability, making wild promises to their customers in exchange for cash. Fool’s gold takes on a whole new significance as the greed of both the conmen and the conned men escalates.
“The Alchemist” is the culmination of six weeks of rehearsal for the cast, which is composed entirely of Tufts undergraduate students. These actors depict an assortment of unsavory characters, including avaricious impersonators, prostitutes and gamblers. “[The characters are a] rogues’ gallery of types, ranging from hypocritical puritans to sex-crazed aristocrats,” Senelick said.
Because the characters transition from one role to another in a rapid frenzy, an impressive degree of flexibility is demanded of the actors. For each performer, these metamorphoses involve exterior alterations, like the donning of increasingly ridiculous costumes, as well as tweaking mannerisms and accents to match the personality of his or her new role-within-a-role.
Though “The Alchemist” dates back to Shakespearean England and is written in Early Modern English, the production crew promises that the play is as lively, captivating and relevant as ever. Sound designer Nathan Leigh described “The Alchemist” as a live-action cartoon filled with “a lot of one-off gags and zany energy.”
Senelick reinforced Leigh’s praise, deeming the piece a play that speaks well to contemporary audiences due to the selfishness found in modern society.
Judging by their commendations, this play has celebrated its fourth centennial birthday more gracefully than most of us mark our 30th.
Senelick described “The Alchemist” as a “very elaborate” and “extremely physical” production. From the ornate costumes to the gripping swordfights, which were choreographed by a fight director, the performance is both aesthetically pleasing and sensually engrossing.
“I think the audience will appreciate the lavishness of the costumes and the monumentality of the set,” Senelick said.
This strikingly furnished set is also historically accurate, which is unusual, according to set designer Ted Simpson.
“Frequently when you do period shows like this, the director wants to change the period or get conceptual about it … but in this particular case, [Senelick] seemed to think there was a lot of value in doing it straight,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun, because as a designer, you rarely design in this period because there wasn’t a lot written in this period.”
According to Leigh, the energetic and gag-filled nature of “The Alchemist” ensures audiences will have as much fun watching the show as Simpson had designing it.
Senelick agreed that the show is a good time for theatergoers, specifically citing the rapid costume changes as a fountain for viewer entertainment.
“The play is perfect for Halloween because it’s full of disguises. The characters are always pretending to be other people than they actually are,” Senelick said, remarking on the seasonal appropriateness of the show.
“The Alchemist” is running at the Balch Arena Theater at 8 p.m. from Oct. 28 to Oct. 30 and from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6. Tickets are $12 for the general public and $7 for students, senior citizens and those with a valid Tufts ID. Group rates are available for parties of 10 or more.