Ben Jonson has a reputation for not being much fun. Unlike Shakespeare, he had zero interest in forests and islands and fairies. He wrote about London, and mostly he criticized it.
What gets forgotten is that Jonson’s comedies are uproariously funny. Their humor comes less from satirical wit than playfulness: Jonson gets a ton of mileage out of disguise, mistaken identity, and hastily concocted plots. In their adaptation of “The Alchemist,” Nothing Special Productions taps into this improvisational vein, and the resulting show is a delight.
The play opens with a quarrel between Subtle (Andrew Marchetti), a charlatan posing as a learned mystic, and his accomplice Face (Sean McGill), a cheeky butler who has turned his absent master’s home into a fake alchemy lab and real bawdy house. The third member of their fraudulent triumvirate, Doll Common (Melissa Imbrogno), restores peace, and the three set about to gyp a variety of fools. As the trio dons various costumes and spins ever more elaborate lies, it becomes apparent that love of money has made them into something more than greedy con men. They’re actors, great ones, and they give their clients a spectacular show even as they rob them blind.
The whole cast sparkles with impish energy. Marchetti and McGill give standout performances, as does Matt Castellvi as Sir Epicure Mammon, who may have the most elaborate culinary fantasies as well as the best character name in theater history. Jack Dugan Carpenter’s direction keeps the space bustling with energetic motion, and clever use of sound and light complements the action.
The show is not entirely without flaws. Lovewit, the homeowner, is inexplicably played as a metal star; this odd choice adds little to the character or to Josh Ravazi’s otherwise engaging performance. The space is tiny and the set is sparse, though functional. But overall, Nothing Special Productions has done something really special: mounted an outstanding version of an extraordinary comedy.