NEW YORK (AP) — Greed that overreaches and causes its own undoing is the primary target of Ben Jonson's 1606 satire, "Volpone." Considering the ongoing global financial crisis, it's clear that classic theater can remain eerily relevant even after 400 years.
Jonson was an English Renaissance poet and playwright considered an equal to his contemporary, William Shakespeare. His acerbic social satire is being performed in a robust, mirthful production by Red Bull Theater titled "Volpone, or The Fox" that opened Sunday night off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village.
Under Jesse Berger's direction, the production is farcically paced yet not frenzied. Berger provides time to savor the antics, along with the genius of Jonson's jests and plot twists, as handled by a wonderfully spirited ensemble in appropriately broad mode.
Stephen Spinella is an ingratiating if youthful-looking Volpone (the Fox), a manipulative con artist in Venice, Italy. Spinella conveys endless delight in his character's inventive machinations, appealing guilelessly to the audience for applause and sympathy.
Miserly Volpone, who begins each day by worshiping his piles of ill-gotten gold and baubles, has merrily connived for three years with his duplicitous servant Mosca, aka the Parasite or the Fly, (portrayed with scamp-like relish by Cameron Folmar), to increase his fortune by stringing along a series of greedy, would-be heirs. Eventually, some of their tricks will backfire alarmingly.
Four greedy and deluded fools ply Volpone with lavish gifts to ingratiate themselves, while he pretends to be near death to keep them on the hook. He ironically refers to them as his "birds of prey," when in fact he preys upon these would-be scavengers.
Rocco Sisto masterfully portrays Voltore, a glowering lawyer, his pale, stooped, beaklike appearance matching his Vulture's costume. Alvin Epstein is delightfully doddering as elderly, nearly-deaf Corbaccio (the Raven).