Volpone

By Ben Johnsonvolpone byjohnson at city lit

Directed by Sheldon Patkin

Music composed & directed by Kingsley Day

At City Lit Theater

Dated satire proves Johnson is  no match for Shakespeare

Some say that Volpone is the greatest satire of the English Renaissance. You couldn’t tell that from the silly, inarticulate and  unfunny production of Johnson’s 1606 comedy now playing at City Lit Theater. This satire with music fizzles on most counts. First, Kingsley Day’s songs were an unmemorable collection of ballads poorly sung with garbled lyrics – when they can be heard! When an off-stage piano drowns out a singer, that singer needs to project more – period! Even when heard, most of the lyrics were mumbled so as not to be understood. I’d advise cutting all five songs since they distract more than add to the show.

volpone at city lit

My next problem with Patinkin’s Volpone is the sloppy inarticulate delivery by several cast members. Much of this wordy text needs to be either cut or refined for modern audiences. The actors must articulate, not race through their lines. Lastly, at 2 hours and 30 minutes, Volpone is simply too much of an endurance battle with boredom. With long explanations blended with wacky physical comedy play like cartoon characters, Volpone turns into a silly affair devoid of laughs. The performance I attended found few laughs throughout and a portion of the audience departed at the intermission.

volpone at city lit

As much as Don Bender (Volpone) and his wily servant Mosca (Eric Damon Smith) tried to lead the way, the two scoundrel’s adventures to con the greedy and gullible men to Volpone’s  apparent ‘dead bed’ so he can ‘name’ one (or all) as his sole heir – the satire fizzles. Over the top acting and uneven pacing dilute the humor. In stead of sharp wit and spot-on comedic timing, we see mumbling and goofy physicality. The tone is more vaudeville than sarcastic.  So many laughs are thrown away and so many precious moments are lost that Volpone simply drowned on and on. Don Binder and Eric Damon Smith worked hard to salvage the show but it simply overwhelmed them. City Lit Theater has mounted so many excellent shows over the last few years, so don’t give up on them. We all produce a dud once in a while.

Not Recommended

Tom Williams

At City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-293-3682, www.citylit.org, Tickets $25, Fridays 7 Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through February 27, 2011