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The Alchemist

At the Loeb Drama Center, through April 22

By Allan Katz

Masturbatory daydreams do not make good theater. There is sex enough in The Alchemist to justify it as the focus of a production; but to squeeze sex out of every line, to impose sex when there is none to squeeze, blurs the sharp outlines of Jonson's play and dulls his sharp wit. The lusty zest which director Mark Mirsky tried to inject into the production bloated it into a rarely amusing, never shocking bore.

One of the greatest difficulties was understanding the lines. The audience was seated on both sides of the stage, forcing the actors to address only half the house at any given time. Their words drifted back to the other half in a distorted inaudible version. One sensed there would be trouble when Mirsky spoke the prologue in what sounded very much like Polish.

Even though Mirsky's taste leaves much to be desired, there were a few performances and a few moments during the play that hinted at Mirsky's potentially great talent. Henry Munn as Face was articulate and at moments very funny; in minor roles Thomas Babe and Thomas Segall overplayed what could have been a very good thing. Laurie Gould as Doll Common was sexy. If the slow pace and heaviness of the production had not dulled one's senses, several of the scenes might well have been riotous.

Eric Martin's set is, as usual, original, simple, serviceable, brilliant. And Mirsky used is quite intelligently. The stage is a small circle with a revolving couch, a trap door, and many ramps leading offstage; and Mirsky has solved the problem of exposing his actors to both audiences by moving them around and around whenever he could.

The point of The Alchemist must be made largely through its pacing. The moral plague which settles over Lovewit's London house must come with lightning speed as Subtle and Face deceive victim after victim; and at the end of the play the victims must converge on the house in a thunder clap of righteous indignation. The audience should be allowed to catch its breath only in the final moments, when Face miraculously stands triumphant after his final deceit. If Mirsky speeds the action and limits the number of actors who lasciviously roll their tongues around their lips and ostentatiously finger their crotches, the production may cohere. The resounding blast of broken wind which opens the show may lead to bigger and better things, instead of being the high point of the evening.

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