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"Volpone" is a long and beautifully bred sneer, tuned within an octave whose extremes are its own deft slapstick and the high cyniscism of "Caprice". Ben Jonson gave the Fox his being and his taste to trick the would be inheritors, who licked his hands for the delicious death sweat. Since then "Volpone" has been through the adaptation of Stefan Sweig and the translation of Ruth Langner. Even now, in the buzz of Mosca the Gadfly, the pandering servant who wins gold for Volpone to dirk him in the end with his own weapons of pen, ink and attested parchment, one can recognize that wise hardness that was to stiffen the ease of Elizabethan lyricism.
Volpone and Mosca were played with skill by Claude Rains and Earl Larimore. In his nightgown, his cracked and reedy voice gleeful with deception, Volpone remained to the end a riddle. After the Fox, in planned guise of death, has signed away his coffersful to his servant, Mosca throws into his teeth the question: "Who are you?", and there is no real answer. Volpone is no longer Volpone, for Volpone made a will and died. But he never was anyone; even to Johnson he never was more real than the idea of greed.
So too of Mosca, who lies his master into wealth, and tricks him out of it again. His laugh at the moment of triumph is tight of mouth, and even as the curtain is erasing his story he is flinging florins to the grovelling gold-thirsty who had waited for the death of Volpone. Mosca need not be named in Boston as Alfred Lunt's part; Mr. Larimore has all the grace, and enough of the busy play of expression that belonged to the actor-guardsman. In Hamlet black, with a tight head of red curls that are in a mad way exact for the role, Mosca moves swiftly, and used the stage from footlights to lagoon balcony and from box to box. At times his fingers, fitting the gilded carvings of the Hollis side pillars are all that keep him out of several well-known laps.
The Vulture, the Crow, and the Raven, heirs apparent before Mosca has finished his work, are all carefully done, and rather better than either of the two feminine leads, Canina, using Blanca's method in man-hunting, has barren ground for her seed in Mosca and Volpone, but her acting lifts when she finds Carbaccio more amorously accessible. Philip Leigh, the Vulture, managed his voice as well as usual, but had a crutch, a limp, and a hunch to his black and cloaked back, just when it was hoped that the stage, at least, had seen the last of Mr. Chaney. Albert Van Dekker, in the part of Leone, Captain of the Fleet, spares nothing of himself to support alone in the play the whole truth of virtue outraged. His acting grew in strength, and no irony was lost in the trial for rape and the money-won acquittal of the Fox.
"Volpone" leaves an impression of the same compact thought and fertile gesture that made rich its three predecessors. What makes it principally worth seeing is the rare after-pleasure of dramatic entity.
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