ARTS AND CULTURE: Alchemy Theatre presents comedy set during the Black Plague – The Tribune

Alchemy Theatre holds mirror up to current events with dark comedy about the 14th century Black Plague

Alchemy Theatre isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to current events. The Tri-State’s year-round adult live theatre company is producing the dark comedy “Red Noses,” by Peter Barnes through March 20 at the West Edge Factory in Westmoreland. The play, set in 14th century France, follows a troupe of zany characters as they travel the countryside trying to bring joy to people’s lives as the region is ravaged by the Black Plague. As if that’s not relevant enough, some of the themes are also eerily close to current events in Russia and Ukraine as well.

“Everyone can relate to this play now,” Mike Murdock, artistic director of Alchemy and director of Red Noses said. “We are living through our own pandemic, and what we need is a little laughter to see us through.”

The play — part Monty Python, part Bible story, part meditation on what it means to face love, laughter, hatred and fear in our society — was written by Barnes in 1978 and first produced at the Barbican Theatre in 1985. It tells the story of Father Flote, a passionate monk who finds his calling by bringing people joy and laughter before they die. Flote puts together a group of like-minded folk and tours the countryside, but he’s beset by religious zealots, fanatics and those who profit from death.

“Barnes was such a brilliant writer. And I don’t know if he saw many of these things coming, or if he just knew that while some things change, some things always stay the same,” Murdock said. “There are so many lines that can be drawn to what is happening in the world right now, that it’s truly haunting. We knew going into this that the play would echo the pandemic, but we weren’t prepared for the other global events that have exploded while we were rehearsing. This play is more meaningful now than ever.”

Murdock has done this show before at Ohio University in Athens in the late 1990s and it never left his mind.

“This is one of those shows that is rarely done, but when you see it, it sticks with you,” Murdock said. “Scott Yarbrough (now the artistic director of Third Rail Repertory Theatre in Portland, Oregon) directed me in this play many years ago at OU and did a simply brilliant job with this very difficult subject matter. Since then it has been one of my all-time favorite shows — it’s funny and it’s poignant, gut-bustingly funny and heartbreakingly sad — it’s everything you want good live theatre to be. We’re very excited for people to join us for this experience.”

And it is definitely an experience. Clocking in at over three hours, this play gives theatregoers their money’s worth.

“We aren’t backing away from the length. We’re even starting half-an-hour earlier to get you home before 11. Sometimes a truly good story takes a little time to tell. This is one of those. Sometimes long plays scare people away, but they’ll go see a four-hour musical and never complain. So we’re hoping we can give them a little more meat to chew on and they won’t be disappointed,” Murdock said. “If they want to have an emotional experience laughter, sadness, love and hate — Alchemy’s going to deliver that in spades with ‘Red Noses.’”

“Red Noses” runs March 12-13 and March 18-20. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. There are no matinees for this production. All tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the door. Seating is limited, so get your tickets before they sell out.

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