Volpone, by the Resurgens Theatre Company Directed by Brent Griffin at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse in Atlanta, GA, 2016
Review by Tyler Bruce Dale, Mary Baldwin University
This year, early modern scholars and practitioners celebrate the quadricentennial anniversary of Ben Jonson’s Workes, the first folio of his plays, published in 1616. In Atlanta, the Resurgens theatre company commemorated this event by hosting the ‘Ben Jonson First Folio Quadricentennial Conference’ at the Shakespeare Tavern on September 23 and 24. To serve the occasion, the company produced two of Jonson’s premier works: The Alchemist and Volpone.
Director Brent Griffin aims for a careful balance between ‘original practices’ and clear communication with a present day audience, a strategy which does not take many risks or approach novelty in concept, but which plays to the strengths of his company and presents texts less familiar than Shakespeare’s in a clear, accessible manner. All of the expected ‘OP’ staples are present; the company employs Renaissance-style costumes, universal lighting, and audience contact competently without much deviation from or experimentation with the style. But given Volpone’s rarity in performance, the safe approach still feels fresh.
Griffin’s production offers a heavily abridged version of the text. Several characters and scenes from Jonson’s play are missing. According to the program notes, the act of theatrical alteration and abridgment fit within the realms of original practice, and in performance, the missing segments are hardly missed. The core of Jonson’s argument remains intact, and Griffin’s judicious scalpel begets a script which better utilizes the resources of his troupe.
The Resurgens Theatre Company focuses on producing the works of Shakespeare’s contemporaries using what the company calls an ‘enhanced prosodic approach’ to verse, and Griffin’s Volpone demonstrates this commitment to metrical and rhetorical study. With few metrical bobbles, the cast as a whole exhibit a firm grasp on Jonson’s complex metrical structures and linguistic flourishes and communicate them to an audience clearly and with little static. On occasions the concentrated focus on prosody seem to neglect other aspects of performance, impacting negatively the energy and pacing of the production, but such hindrances were not characteristic of the whole. Joe Falocco and Hayley Platt in particular demonstrate deep textual understanding and preparation in their performances as Corvino and Mosca respectively, while still maintaining the vigor necessary to sustain live performance.
Resurgens’ Volpone takes few risks with style, but the performers’ rigorous textual preparation and research exfoliate a complex work to an audience not familiar with Jonson’s works, and their adherence to Renaissance practices celebrates Jonson’s 400 year legacy with those who are.