The Alchemist

The Alchemist

Aug 2, 2022

The Alchemist

Alchemy is a pretty kind of game,
Somewhat like tricks o’ the cards, to cheat a man
With charming.

Lovewit has left his London home in the care of his trusted servant Jeremy, who promptly changes his name and transforms the property into headquarters for an elaborate criminal enterprise. A laugh-out-loud satire from the slick wit of Shakespeare's rival Ben Jonson, the Original Practices performance of "The Alchemist" is a can't-miss, one-night-only event.

Since 1958, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival has delighted audiences with professional theatre on the CU Boulder campus. Complete your Colorado summer with Shakespeare under the stars in the historic Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre—complimentary seatbacks included.

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Performance date and time

Tuesday, Aug. 2, 6:30 p.m.  $25-$56

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More about the show

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Plot synopsis

Lovewit has abandoned his house in the city until the plague subsides. In his absence, his butler Face, along with co-conspirators Subtle and Doll Common, are scamming Londoners; they convince a series of gullibles that they’re experts in all manner of occult arts, particularly alchemy. A lawyer’s clerk 
(Dapper) wants a “familiar spirit” to ensure his gambling luck. In exchange for a generous upfront fee and a share of his winnings, the trio promises the favor of the queen of the fairies. A nearby tobacconist (Drugger) hopes for magical advice to make his shop prosper—and for a little help to marry Dame Pliant, the beautiful, rich widow next door. Sir Epicure Mammon fantasizes of the wealth he’ll soon have, despite his friend Surly’s deep skepticism. Mammon continues to provide funds and insists Subtle is about to deliver the promised “philosopher’s stone” and he’ll turn everything to pure gold. A pair of pious pastors, Tribulation Wholesome and Ananias, have also paid handsomely for the not-quite-ready philosopher’s stone, hoping that untold wealth will help their religious cause. Dame Pliant’s brother, Kastril, hears “quarreling” is fashionable in town and wants to learn how to win.

Shenanigans, disguises—including Surly pretending to be a Spanish don in order to gather proof of fraud—and false promises ensue until Lovewit returns home unexpectedly and hears his neighbors tell him of strange doings in his absence. Face denies all, and as the victims arrive one by one, insists there must have been a jailbreak at the local madhouse. Face confesses to Lovewit but promises that forgiveness will get him wealth and a wealthy widow. Lovewit promises he’ll return all the stolen property to the victims—as long as they get a court order. Unwilling to publicly declare how badly they’ve been fooled, they each slink off. Lovewit, disguised as the Spanish don, marries Dame Pliant. Meanwhile, Subtle and Doll are getting tired of Face, and plot to run off together after they con the young widow out of all her jewels. Before they can, Face tells them Lovewit knows all, officers are coming, and the best they can hope for is to escape with the clothes on their backs.

—Heidi Schmidt, dramaturg

Actor-manager's note

It’s been a pleasure serving as “actor-manager” of CSF’s Original Practices (OP) production for a fourth year. In Shakespeare’s day, productions weren’t led by a director in the way they are today; actors came together knowing only their own lines to collectively stage the play in a short amount of time. Theatre is a collaborative art form in general, but these rehearsal practices take it to another level. What you’ll be seeing today is truly the product of a team.

After eight years of producing Shakespeare in the OP slot, this year we’re turning our attention to a contemporary of Shakespeare’s: Ben Jonson. One of my favorite things about the Original Practices project here at CSF is the opportunity it provides to experiment with the staging practices that both Shakespeare and his contemporaries incorporated into their plays. It has been illuminating to perform Shakespeare’s plays as they were written to be performed, with audience engagement, actors playing multiple roles, lightning-fast costume changes, onstage musicians and line prompters. I’m very interested in applying these practices to Jonson’s work as well, which is quite different than Shakespeare’s. 

To compare Shakespeare and Jonson is to consider a country heart versus a city brain. Shakespeare sides with his characters; Jonson lampoons his. Shakespeare’s comedies often feature characters who flee the court and experience some degree of redemption or transformation; Jonson’s satires expose and criticize the human flaws that never change. In The Alchemist, it’s greed he’s targeting—and gullibility, too—as our three conspirators Face, Subtle and Doll Common work together to deceive their neighbors into believing that they’ll all become millionaires overnight through alchemy. 

We’re performing his most celebrated satire on the set of The Book of Will, which includes Jonson as a character in the play. (This play is timely for other reasons, as well, as the action takes place during a pandemic; the owner of the house, Lovewit, is absent because he’s gone to the country to quarantine!) 

You’ll notice that the audience doesn’t have flags to wave for this OP production, as this is not a history about England vs. France; instead, we’re leaning into a different way to engage the audience by seating some audience members on stage, as they were seated in Shakespeare’s day. We are delighted to be sharing this brutally funny play with you, which in many ways is as relevant as ever.

—Kevin Rich, actor-manager