There’s no body count and only a few drops of blood in Ben Jonson’s tricky yet rewarding satire Volpone. Can this really be a Red Bull Theater production? Oh, yes. Even though the Jacobean plays presented by artistic director Jesse Berger’s company have leaned heavily to the violent side, there’s no mistaking the inventive staging, small-budget visual splendor and spunky, supreme cast tossing themselves into the material.
The 400-year-old, Venice-set play follows the exploits of the money-loving title rascal, played by Stephen Spinella with winning rosiness that belies Volpone’s scheming. With the help of his quick-thinking servant, Mosca (Cameron Folmar), Volpone has tricked a fawning trio (Rocco Sisto, Alvin Epstein, Michael Mastro) into believing he’s at death’s door and that each will inherit his fortune. As they woo him with lavish gifts—and a fourth admirer, Lady Would-Be (Tovah Feldshuh), deploys her bodily charms—Volpone, whose name means “fox,” piles trick on top of delicious trick until the kerfuffle segues into a morality-tale ending.
Jonson twists his satirical knife delicately, but you still feel the blade. And although Berger takes liberties with the text, excising two characters who aren’t central to the plot, he creates a mischievous, fabled world with John Arnone’s storybook backdrops and Clint Ramos’s feathery, borderline-ridiculous costumes, inspired by the birds of prey Volpone’s visitors are named for. As theaters abound with that other story about a miserly gentleman and his four callers during the holidays, this joyful event should add seasonal spirit to your world.—Diane Snyder