Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Timon of Athens" - A Timely Curiosity

Reviewed by Judd Hollander

Kudos to The Public Theater and director Barry Edelstein for presenting a very involving production of the rarely-seen Shakespeare work Timon of Athens (The offering is part of the Public Lab Shakespeare series). Long considered one of the Bard's problem plays, the show often zips by with a smart, sure and involving effect. However, despite all the positive attributes of the production, the inherent problems of the text are still quite visible.

In ancient Athens, Timon (Richard Thomas) is a much-admired and prosperous landowner, given to holding elaborate feasts and enjoying the fawning flattery of his so-called friends who loudly boast about how well they love him. Timon responds to them in kind, endlessly lavishing riches (in the form of gold, jewels and horses) on his admirers. He also pays a convicted man's fine and even arranges for the marriage of a servant by presenting a large dowry to the prospective father-in-law.

Unfortunately Timon also has a major blind spot; he does not keep track of his financial accounts, spending far more than he actually has in his ever-shrinking coffers. When finally realizing the gravity of his situation (after learning he is utterly broke), Timon turns to those self-same friends for help, never dreaming they would deny him in his time of need. Yet deny him they do, with sad-sounding excuses and simulated righteous rage (one man rails against Timon for being asked third for help instead of first). Furious, Timon plots his revenge by inviting his former comrades to yet another sumptuous dinner, this one with an unexpected main course.

Act Two takes place after Timon has fled his palatial home and is living as a hermit in the woods, shunning all human contact, rebuffing even his loyal steward Flavius (Mark Nelson) and living on roots and water. Yet when rumors begin to circulate that Timon has regained his wealth, his old "friends" come out of the woodwork, once more seeking his favors and wanting to let bygone by bygones. However, Timon may not been so inclined to forget and forgive.

The play definitely tells an interesting story, but the end result feel somewhat disjointed, mainly because the show's two acts don't mesh all that well; with the first filled with intrigue and multiple characters and characterizations (and moving at an almost frenetic but controlled pace); while the second, more slower and intimate half focuses on Timon basically railing against those he feels have betrayed him. There's also a subplot of how Alcibiades, an Athenian Captain, (Reg E. Cathey) has fallen out of favor, and who has raised an army and is returning to destroy the city.

The saying "a fool and his money are soon parted" is a central message of Timon of Athens; along with idea that money is the root of all evils, at least for those who do not have the ability to understand its power and danger. There's also a not-so-gentle inference about the overall hypocrisy of man, as well as an opportunity for redemption, should those offered it have the courage to learn from what has transpired before.

Edelstein's direction is excellent, especially in the first act; setting the scene and letting events unfold nicely. He's a bit hamstrung by the constrictions of the text at points, but manages to keep things moving as best he can. Edelstein also takes the opportunity to play up the possibilities for black humor that are inherent in the script. Such as when two of Alcibiades' soldiers (costumed as terrorists) try to rob Timon and his almost joyful reaction to their attempt.

Thomas is wonderful as the title character. His transformation from flattery-loving fop to destitute misanthrope is quite believable. Indeed, given the current economic situation, the events depicted in the play are unfortunately very timely. Timon's actions later on are harder to connect with, the action taking place in a more unfamiliar world than that of act one. Most of the rest of the cast plays multiple roles (e.g. bankers, angry fathers, poets, jewelers, etc.), with only surface depth to them, but all come across as very realistic. Tom Bloom and Triney Sandoval do very well in this regard. Other standouts include Max Casella as the philosopher Apemantus, a sort of voice of angry reason to which Timon pays no need, and Cathey as the determined and angry soldier. Also quite good is Nelson as supremely loyal Flavius.

The sets by Neil Patel are very good. It also helps that the show has more than a bit of a timeless quality, thanks to the use of video projections by Andrew C. Kircher and costumes by Katherine Roth, the latter which offers a nice mixture of varying styles. Lighting by Russell H. Champa is fine and the sound design by Leon Rothenberg, with a bit of a rock beat, is excellent.

Timon of Athens is not the best work in the Shakespeare canon, but there's still a lot to be appreciated from the Public Theater's very enjoyable, if somewhat unwieldy production.

Timon of Athens
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Barry Edelstein
Scenic Design: Neil Patel
Costume Design: Katherine Roth
Lighting Design: Russell H. Champa
Sound Design: Leon Rothenberg
Video Design: Andrew C. Kircher
Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Vocal and Text Coach: Shane Ann Younts
Music: Curtis Moore
Production Stage Manager: James Latus
Stage Manager Tom Taylor
Guitar: Simon Kafka

Featuring: Richard Thomas (Timon), Max Casella (Apemantus), Reg E. Cathey (Alcibiades), Mark Nelson (Flavius), David Manis (Lucius/Senator), Chris McKinney (Lucullus/Senator), Triney Sandoval (Sempronius/Senator), Che Ayende (Servilius), Cary Donaldson (Lucilius), Tom Bloom (Senator/Old Athenian/Stranger), Brian Keane (Merchant/Officer of the Senate), Anthony Manna (Jeweler/Caphis), Greg McFadden (Poet), Orville Mendoza (Painter), Joe Paulik (Cupid/Philotus).

The Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
Closed: March 6, 2011

No comments: