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"Volpone" at Red Bull Theater in 2012. (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

‘Volpone’ at Red Bull Theater

A look at the design of a revival Ben Jonson’s classic.

Red Bull Theater’s production of Ben Jonson’s Volpone ran Nov. 27–Dec. 23, 2012, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York, under Jesse Berger’s direction. The production featured scenic design by John Arnone, costume design by Clint Ramos, lighting design by Peter West, music by Scott Killian, choreography by Tracy Bersley, voice and speech consultation by Elizabeth Smith, wig and hair design by Charles LaPointe, dramaturgy by Laura Brown and stage management by Lori Amondson. The cast included Jen Eden, Alvin Epstein, Sean Patrick Doyle, Cameron Folmar, Tovah Feldshuh, Michael Mastro, Christina Pumariega, Pearl Rhein, Rocco Sisto, Alexander Sovronsky, Teale Sperling, Stephen Spinella, Raphael Nash Thompson and Gregory Wooddell.

Jesse Berger, DIRECTION: Red Bull Theater’s mission is to produce plays of heightened language, particularly from the Jacobean period. I was interested in an out-and-out comedy—but a lot of Jacobean comedies don’t stand the test of time because the references were so contemporary. After the economic crisis in 2008, I was looking at Jacobean comedies about money, and the deeper we got into the stories of Bernie Madoff and the economic “bad actors,” we realized Volpone would fit with our time and would examine the role of money in our culture and its corrupting influence. Everyone in Volpone is distorted by greed—they have these animal characteristics written into them. John Arnone’s set design reflected a commedia world and the acting had a contemporary feel, without being too Method. The heightened style embraced what the text gave us. If we played Volpone in a naturalistic way, it might’ve been a very boring evening!

Clint Ramos, COSTUME DESIGN: The aesthetic that we were shooting for was Elizabethan with a bit of punk and grunge. We kept it in this black world, and we operated on imageries of birds. For the three rich guys—Corbaccio, Corvina and Voltore [center and right]—we wanted to evoke the iridescence of blackbird feathers. Madam Would-Be [fifth from right] was based on a red and black macaw, marrying her to the other blackbirds but also setting her apart. Characters like Celia [far left] were outside the cycle of greed and seemed like doves, so I dressed them in blue to keep them in a separate world. Volpone [bottom] is the fox, so I thought it would be fun to dress him up in foxtails. I wanted to strip him down to a decaying figure, to show what greed does to us, so we put him in this 19th-century union suit, or onesie. I wanted characters like Nano and Castrone [bottom left and right], who entertain Volpone, to manifest the same decay as Volpone but in a punk, rock-and-roll kind of way, with some sexuality and androgyny. So we went into Vivienne Westwood and punk London to give the sense that they lived in dungeons and just popped up when called for. Avocatore [center] is the richest one of all and Raphael Nash Thompson, the actor, was 6’5″, so we thought: Let’s make him a totem of gold. One of the beautiful things about Jonson is the complete absence of subtext—the characters are very black and white, they’re completely controlled by id. It’s refreshing to work on something this direct.

Charles LaPointe, WIG AND HAIR DESIGN: The Elizabethans inspired everything in this show, but all you had to do was twist the hair a certain way, throw in a funky color and you change the whole feel of it. It’s meant to look weird and off-kilter. For example, Castrone is dressed like an Elizabethan, but he’s got straps around his body referencing steampunk. Clint asked, “What do you think of horns?” So I took stuffing and created a horn shape, built the red wig around that, and did a loopy ponytail thing at the end, just to make it look silly. All of the wigs are hand-tied, which means they’re ventilated and hand-made, and the fronts are all natural, based on the actor’s hairline. To get to do something bold-shaped and weird was fun!

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