The Initiation | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Alchymia Theatre, at Saint Ignatius Auditorium.

There's little factual data on the 15th-century martyr Christian Rosenkreutz, whose life inspired the Rosicrucians, an esoteric organization initially distinguished by its promotion of alchemy, though nowadays it's more concerned with spiritual fulfillment through metaphysical exercises. Soon after the group was launched, in 1604, one Johann Valentin Andreae wrote a pamphlet, The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, that spread this quasi-religious philosophy throughout the Western world. Centuries later, Andreae's tale of Rosenkreutz's discovery of his chosen path attracted the praise of Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Anthroposophical Society, under whose auspices Alchymia Theatre now presents The Initiation, Christopher Marcus's adaptation of Andreae's mystical narrative.

Though not without its moments of spectacle and even humor, at three hours with one intermission The Initiation may be a rather heavy sermon for all but the converted. The Alchymists' abstract dramatization of Rosenkreutz's seven-day spiritual test relies largely on interpretive dance (led by Brigida Baldszun as the Lady, a sort of annunciatory angel), exotic instrumentations by onstage musician Joshua Schor, and ritualistic tableaux in which the remaining seven players assume, by turn, the role of Rosenkreutz. Those with an interest in Rosicrucian beliefs, which profoundly affected 17th- and 18th-century thought, will find this Alchymia production a decidedly thorough introduction.

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