Red Bull Theater streamed a very special benefit reading of Ben Jonson’s classic comedy, Volpone, or The Fox directed by Jesse Berger, Red Bull’s Founder and Artistic Director on June 14. You can watch the video on demand below through June 18.
First produced by Red Bull Theater in 2012, this new version will feature emendations & elaborations by director Berger and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher (The Government Inspector).
“It’s an absolute pleasure to return to Volpone, as the penultimate of our season of online benefit readings this year – especially with the inimitable André De Shields in the title role. Human greed and con artists appear to be timeless parts of human nature-damnable in life, but hilarious on stage! We had so much fun with this delicious satire in our 2012 production at the Lortel (with a totally different and equally fabulous cast) and I am excited to share the material again in this new way with a wholly new stellar cast of great comic actors. Plus there’ll be fun new nips, tucks and comic wrinkles by the brilliant Jeffrey Hatcher (adaptor of our pandemic-delayed-but-coming-back-soon production of Jonson’s The Alchemist) and some design surprises and delights from our terrific creative team. Oh – this and all of Red Bull’s online events are performed LIVE. Nothing is prerecorded – And just like with live theater: anything can happen. With this hilarious cast, I think that’s truer than ever. Join us for the fun,” said Artistic Director Berger.
Meet Volpone, the rich old magnifico, whose ingenious schemes and farcical scams dupe his wealthy friends into showering him with gold. This feast of extraordinary language and outrageous characters is a merciless satire that delightfully skewers the selfish manipulations of hypocrites-without excusing the greed and gullibility of their victims. Against scoundrels cloaked in propriety and legal dodgings, the virtuous are practically defenseless-and even the judge is on the make. Is Volpone the sly fox…or the outfoxed?
Volpone, or The Fox will star André De Shields (triple-crown winner of the 2019 awards season: Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Tony awards for Best Featured Actor in a musical for Hadestown, as well as the 2020 Grammy Award; also AUDELCO Award for Lifetime Achievement, Red Bull Theater Matador Award for Excellence in Classical Theater. Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre, inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame, Emmy Award for Ain’t Misbehavin’, Tony Award nominations for Play On! and The Full Monty, Off-Broadway Alliance Legend Award, Life Achievement Bistro Award, National Black Theatre Festival’s Living Legend Award, Obie Award for sustained excellence of performance, and eight AUDELCO Awards) in the title role.
The cast also features Hamish Linklater (Seminar), Peter Francis James (Hillary and Clinton), Roberta Maxwell (The Merchant), Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), Mary Testa (Oklahoma!), Jordan Boatman, Sofia Cheyenne, Franchelle Stewart Dorn, Clifton Duncan, Amy Jo Jackson, ad Sam Morales.
Volpone, or The Fox will have visual design by John Arnone, costume design by Rodrigo Muñoz from original designs by Tony Award winner Clint Ramos, original music and sound design by Scott Killian, and property design by Faye Armon-Troncoso.
This event is a benefit for Red Bull Theater. Tickets are “Pay What You Can.” Advance reservations are recommended. If you’re able, please consider making a donation with your reservation to support our online activity and our return to in-person programming. Volpone, or The Fox will premiere LIVE on Monday, June 14th at 7:30pm. A recording of that livestream will be available until 7:00 PM EDT on Friday, June 18th – then it disappears.
On Thursday June 17th at 7:30 PM EDT, there will be a free Bull Session: An interactive discussion with director Jesse Berger, scholar Jean E. Howard and members of the company.
ABOUT THE PLAY
Scholar Jean E. Howard writes “Jonson set most of his comedies in early modern London, but for Volpone he chose Venice. In the Renaissance, Venice was a wealthy center of trade where luxury products from the East made their way into Europe, but it was also famous for its Republican political structures, its art and its courtesans. In Volpone, Jonson used Venice to signify both wealth and moral decadence.
“The play opens with the main character, Volpone, making a rapturous speech to his gold. Nearly every other character is also in thrall to this ‘dumb god,’ and to attain more and more wealth these Venetians are ready to prostitute their wives, disinherit their sons and defile their honor. The action of Volpone exposes and satirizes the actions of its avaricious characters, but it does so with dazzling ingenuity. The play is dominated by a magnificent con artist, Volpone, and his tricky servant Mosca. Together they dupe the well-off doctors, lawyers and merchants of Venice into giving rich gifts to Volpone, who pretends to be near death, in the hope that one of them can become his heir. Jonson underscores the predatory logic of the play by playing with the conventions of the beast fable in which the actions of humans are figured by animals. Volpone’s name means ‘fox,’ and he is visited by the lawyer Voltore or ‘vulture,’ the merchant Corvino or ‘crow,’ and a rich old miser named Corbaccio or ‘raven.’ Just as in nature when a fox pretends to be dead in order to attract birds of prey that the fox then snatches in its jaws, so Volpone, feigning every manner of illness, lays in wait for the human birds who circle around his ‘deathbed.’ In all his scams Volpone is brilliantly helped and guided by Mosca, whose name means ‘fly,’ a carrion-loving insect. Mosca is one of Jonson’s great creations, a figure who can play any part, assume any humor and subtly seduce his prey into Volpone’s traps, even as he sets his own. And yet as in any good fable, the ending must surprise.
Volpone, more perhaps than any other Jonsonian comedy, takes risks in its concluding scenes, stretching comedy to its limit as the tricksters dangerously over-reach themselves and slam up against the harsh strictures of Venetian law. In the vice-ridden world that Jonson creates in Volpone, figures of virtue appear to be mostly ineffective. Besides a ridiculously loquacious woman named Lady Politic Would-Be, the play boasts only one other named woman character, the chaste and beautiful Celia, unhappy wife of the jealous Corvino. In a Shakespearean romantic comedy, Celia would probably be a spirited protagonist, witty and clever. In Volpone, although she is a consistent voice for grace, she figures mainly as the helpless victim of her husband’s jealousy and Volpone’s lust. In this play, the vice-ridden characters have both the energy and the power, and they are foiled not by forces of good but by themselves.”
For more information visit www.redbulltheater.com.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer, award-winning filmmaker and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman. She stars in and served as Executive Producer for the short independent films Hide and Seek, Balancing Act, Rom-Com Gone Wrong, Belongingness and When the World was Young (2021 DisOrient Film Audience Award for Best Short Narrative). She is also the Executive Producer for The Cactus, The Language Lesson, The Writer and Cream and 2 Shugahs.