Originally written for The Occidental.
With a theater program on campus, not many people look outside Occidental’s boundaries to see good plays. These people are missing out. Tucked into a beautiful building in Glendale, a mere 15 minutes from Oxy, is A Noise Within, a marvelous theater company. They are currently running three plays in repertory, and if the other two are as good as Volpone, you’re in for a treat any night of the week.
Written by Ben Jonson, Volpone has a plot as complex as any Shakespeare comedy times two! Volpone, the title character, is unbelievably rich, and has been pretending to be deathly ill for three years so that all the greedy people in town will shower him with presents in an effort to win his favor and be named his heir. Mosca, Volpone’s parasite, lives with and serves him devotedly, helping his patron to weave deception upon deception, hoodwinking the gullible citizens of Venice. When Volpone lays eyes on Celia, the wife of a local merchant, he becomes hopelessly fascinated by her, and with the help of Mosca, concocts his most devious plot yet. Meanwhile, there are, of course, several sub-plots going on.
The actors are marvelous, balancing the serious and the comic perfectly. Since Volpone is a very enthusiastic comedy (and often borders on farce!), the costumes are incredibly ridiculous, and suit the characters perfectly. The various hopeful heirs are all referred to as various carrion birds, and dress appropriately — wearing large, flapping gowns and oversized bird’s-beak masks; Volpone himself is a sly fox of a rogue, and so has brilliant red hair; and so on. Perhaps the more amazing achievement of the wonderful cast is that they quite ably change 17th century verse into normal speech. Although Jonson wrote Volpone in the early 1605, the dialog is as understandable, as hysterically funny, as if the characters spoke today’s dialect.
So, what is the bottom line? If you’re looking for a serious morality play, go somewhere else. But if you’re looking for a chance to enjoy yourself while watching something that will impress your professors, go see Volpone.