Volpone: “beautiful, weird”
Nick Hennessy, a frequent director on the ARHS stage, took on a new theatrical goliath with his April 28-30 mounting of Ben Jonson’s Volpone, this year’s Student Produced Play.
A 17th century English satire centered thematically on endless layers of greed and gluttony, Volpone follows a cast of characters including the merchant Volpone alongside lawyers, mistresses, servants, and misers of Venice where the traditional story is set. Yet Hennessy opted for a contemporary staging.
Rather than Venice, Hennessy picked the late 1960s United States as a backdrop. The production boasted a colorful set, featuring additional oddities including a psychedelic rock score and a Powerpoint presentation.
Generally, the Student Produced play is something theatrically contemporary. Last year’s Proof, in which Hennessy was one of four actors, thrived on its small cast size and intimate design. “I wanted a complete production swing,” he said. “I wanted to direct a play that I would want to see.”
“It’s ambitious staging, definitely,” said sophomore Louis Triggs, one of 16 actors in the cast. His own character, sophisticated knight Peregrine, had been reworked into a British pop idol within the adaptation.
But Hennessy said he honestly believes this was the best way to get high school age students interested in older works– Jonson’s, especially. Though he closely follows William Shakespeare in style and years, Jonson lacks the same acclaim and appears on headlines far more infrequently.
“[Jonson’s] plays are more simple, more story-driven,” Hennessy said, comparing works of the two. “They have fewer psychological complexities.”
Even still, the production provided enough complications for director and cast. Sasha Yakub and Nevin Murray, both seniors, headed the musical aspect of the show, an element which made Volpone something of a “two-headed beast,” said Hennessy.
The Volpone ensemble lept over yet another hurdle when a major shift in casting threatened to disable the show during the April vacation week.
With the production’s lead actor chronically absent, Hennessy himself had to assume the role of the title character. Yet despite the short notice, cast members noted the agility with which he adopted the dual responsibility, in fact “relishing the opportunity,” according to Triggs.
“[Hennessy] knew what he wanted from himself as the character, so he didn’t have to stress out about that part of the show anymore,” said actor Lindsay Campbell. “He could focus on the other parts.”
Triggs described the process on the whole as “chaotic, a bit.” He added, “but it was a really beautiful, little weird thing.”