“The Alchemist Eye” a little foggy

Aaron Kopec's fifth annual Halloween show is long on exposition and short on thrills.

By - Oct 12th, 2012 03:40 pm
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Aaron Kopec’s fifth Halloween show at The Alchemist Theatre

There was a nice sense of community at the premiere of Aaron Kopec’s The Alchemist Eye at the Alchemist Theatre. The lobby offered cozy reprieve from the nasty fall weather, complete with a full bar and buzzing crowd. Battered furniture and dusty trinkets filled the Hopkins Manor set, and creepy background music built anticipation.

The first half hour of The Alchemist Eye attempts some scares. There are great, spooky lighting tricks. A chair slides across the floor on its own accord. And Elizabeth Hopkins (Gwen Zupan) briefly reveals herself as a VERY creepy old woman when she rises from bed at the back of the set.

After that, the play turns into a series of overwritten monologues and diatribes that attempt to explain the unnecessarily complicated history of the Alchemist Eye, an amulet that grants its owner all his desires.

The play stars Jordan Gwiazdowksi as hero Bryant McCartle, a modern-day treasure hunter who has traced the Eye to Hopkins Manor. He arrives purporting to answer an ad for a handyman. Butler Morgan James (Robby McGhee) promptly hires him, even though he claims no one at the manor ever placed the ad. Did Bryant contrive the ad as a pretext to get in the house? If so, why would the butler blindly hire him? In the course of dialogue, the butler suggests that spirits may have placed the ad to draw Bryant to the house. But the playwright never really clarifies this point.

At Thursday night’s premiere, McGhee sounded as if he were reading the script in his mind’s eye rather than conversing. Gwiazdowski was unnecessarily loud and animated. But both found their stride and performed more naturally as the play went on.

Bryant’s fiancée, Charlotte (Amber Smith), arrives to help with the search. Smith, as a slightly controlling and spoiled character, works well with Gwiazdowski, despite a little overkill on caressing and nuzzling. We find through their interactions that Bryant struggles with a drinking problem.

Some of the best scenes in the play come from Bryant and Morgan’s interactions over a bottle of booze. Gwiazdowski is pitch-perfect in his sarcasm. McGhee flawlessly plays an old man trying to impart his wisdom. Forget Halloween, this strong scene could work in another context.

And yet, it is a Halloween play. A sense that nothing spooky is happening nags at you throughout the drawn-out middle of the play. The audience settles back, completely unconcerned that anything might startle or horrify.

A visit from Bryant’s sister Maggie (Liz Whitford) shakes things up a bit and contributes to a gem of a dinner scene in which everyone chews in awkward silence. Her visit also leads to a series of nonsensical character developments and plot turns.

Gwen Zupan as a very creepy Elizabeth Hopkins

Zupan, as Elizabeth Hopkins, has barely registered until this point. When she does enter the dialogue, it is extremely difficult to grasp her basic motivations as a character. She tells Maggie a very confusing and drawn-out story about finding a doll in the winter woods as a child, right before she slices–but that would be telling.

The doll becomes pivotal at the end of the play, but the dialogue takes far too long to get to it. Kopec can write. Elizabeth’s story from the woods for example abounds with beautiful language and images. But it’s simply unnecessary. The play reaches for too many theses, loses focus, and becomes confusing.

And still, the actors do well. Their on-stage chemistry is effortless, and they deliver light-hearted moments with genuine wit. A handful of pop culture references provide amusing character interactions.

But Kopec leaves them to deliver lengthy expositions instead of surprises and scares. The last scene brings back some of the excitement of the first half hour, but with bloated, rushed explanations in tow. The themes revolve around light and dark, seeing and knowing, love and guilt, but all the ideas blend in a fog.

The Alchemist Eye runs Thurs. Fri. and Sat. nights at the Alchemist Theatre in Bay View, through Nov. 3. Purchase tickets online or at the door ($23).

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