by Jessica Cermak Head of Marketing
I was thrilled when Ben asked me to be a part of a developmental reading of the script of The Alchemist. I heard a lot about the show from him, and had been begging him to give me the latest draft of the show, which it seemed like he had been cutting, adapting, and editing for forever.
Once I got my hands on the script, I couldn’t believe how dense it was. I was a little embarrassed at how long it took me to get through it. I sat on my computer reading a few scenes at a time, pulling up the synopsis to make sure I really understood what was going on. I couldn’t believe how much I was struggling! I’m an actor! I went to college! I freaking love Shakespeare, and am currently in a Shakespeare show!
It was only when I pulled up the original Jonson text that I realized how much Ben had really adapted on the script. Most of the minor subplots have been cut, a brilliant choice since the shows will be performed outside and have to compete with screaming children and airplanes. Ben Prusiner is trying his hardest to use heightened language to tell Jonson’s story in a way that modern audiences can understand. This is an outstanding goal. I appreciated the dedication to upholding Jonson’s constant iambic pentameter (he doesn’t stray in prose like Shakespeare does), the cuts, and the modern rewrites.
When I got to the reading, I was surprised that we started with a clown game, dirty buh (oh yes it’s what it sounds like), and that Ben had suggested that we work (or play as he said) on our feet. After having some table readings and doing some editing, it was clear that he wanted to see how the of the piece was. I was so happy to be working with such great actors. They literally hurled themselves right into the play and tried to make strong acting choices to help the play write see what the play might be like if it were performed at this stage.
It soon became clear to all of us that further modernization of the text was required. Prusiner is almost there, but the characters archetypes are still rather Elizabethan, some modern references are needed and in some cases, the characters need to be fleshed out more, since he has cut and merged so many of them. I couldn’t figure out if I was a politician with an extremely conservative bent or a southern baptist minister, and found myself flipping between making promises I couldn’t keep and preaching (perhaps I wasn’t that far off). Ben scribbled down notes through the process and really listened to what the actors had to say. He graciously and openly took the feed back.
It’s amazing how much he has already done with this piece. I was sincerely laughing throughout. It’s clear that he’s interested in telling this story, and reaching a wide range of people with it, and that is what I would call a true artist. I can’t wait to see how the script will evolve even further.
One of the joys of adapting this play has been the opportunity to write new lines of iambic pentameter, in the style and spirit of Ben Jonson, one of Shakespeare’s greatest contemporaries. Here’s the new version of the opening prologue that I’ve written. It has a few lines of Jonson text sprinkled throughout. Hopefully it will set the tone for what is to come!
Greed is our theme, and also much more:
No topic’s better suited for your whore,
Your liar, thief and suckers of each kind,
Presented for your view, if you’re inclined.
Our scene is Wall Street, words from London old,
Because these characters’ stories may be told
As well today as in a by-gone year,
With verses by Ben Jonson, friend of Shakespeare.
This author claimed that with his pen
He never aimed to grieve, but better men;
And so today we hope our story’s craft
Will make you say “I saw myself, and laughed.”
by Carrie Edel Isaacman - Marketing Intern
I am so happy to be the marketing intern for Re:Verse Theater and look forward to assisting on this production of Ben Johnson’s THE ALCHEMIST. This blog will be a space for likeminded artists to contribute conversation and ideas about the text of Ben Johnson’s THE ALCHEMIST. We will have guest bloggers who are involved in classical theater as well as those who are in the financial world reflecting on the play and the upcoming production.
On a personal note Having grown up in a financial family and having spent 10 years working in the financial industry while pursuing theater. To now be a part of a collaborative collective where we are working on Ben Johnson’s THE ALCHEMIST with a reflection on the financial industry is one that is very meaningful for me and is fun. I am sure that our future audiences will have an enjoyable and reflective time and that other theater artists will also enjoy the performances as well.
Carrie Edel Isaacman is the marketing intern and is also an educator, actor and director.