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Actors' Shakespeare Project TIMON OF ATHENS - Bard in Boston

About Actors' Shakespeare Project TIMON OF ATHENS

Previous Entry Actors' Shakespeare Project TIMON OF ATHENS May. 23rd, 2010 @ 09:16 pm Next Entry
TIMON OF ATHENS is one of Shakespeare's less-performed plays, and for that reason alone, the ASP production is a must-see for a completist like me. But that also gives a bit of a challenge is writing a review of it -- having seen only this production, I have no other productions to compare it to. There were weaknesses in the show, but I don't know which of those were because of Shakespeare and Middleton's plot and dialogue, and which were because of directorial choices, and which because of acting choices . . .

A brief overview of the play: first, some things about its writing. This was one of Shakespeare's latter plays, and it was a collaboration with Thomas Middleton, who also wrote THE REVENGER'S TRAGEDY. (Incidentally, if you ever get a chance to see Alex Cox's version of THAT play, with Derek Jacobi, Chris Eccleston, and Eddie Izzard, it's well worth it. But that's a total tangent.) So, it's the work of two really competent-to-brilliant playwrights, but that doesn't necessarily mean that their COLLABORATION was brilliant. Many scholars feel that this was really something of a work-in-progress that wasn't completely polished up before it was published.

So, at the very beginning, you're starting with a text that has some good stuff in it, but which is a bit of a mess.

The concept definitely has some promise to it. Timon (which, incidentally, is pronounced as "Tie-mon", not "TEE-mon" like the meerkat) is a very rich man in Athens. He uses his wealth to entertain people and give them lavish gifts, until, one day, his steward informs him that, despite the steward trying to rein this in for YEARS, Timon is now bankrupt, having given away pretty much everything he owns. He then tries to borrow money back from his friends, who all owe their whole fortunes to him, all of whom turn him down. Homeless and penniless, he goes out to live in the fields, because nobody likes him, everybody hates him, guess he's going to go eat worms. While digging for said worms, he uncovers gold. Which just pisses him off MORE, because now he realizes that gold just gets you people who want to leech off of you.

In the "B" plot, Timon's buddy Alcibiades gets banished from Athens, and so decides to destroy the city in revenge.

The only other really likeable character is the philosopher Apemantus, who hates everybody and spends the play insulting all the other characters.

For the record -- that's the likeable characters: a guy who gets duped by parasitic friends to give away his entire fortune, the loyal steward who couldn't keep him from doing that, a soldier who decides to destroy the city 'cause They Done Him Wrong, and a churlish and hostile grouch. Everybody else is worse.

The ASP production cuts a fair bit, and condenses several characters. For instance, as written, Timon has a number of servants. In the ASP production, the only servant is Bobbie Steinbach as Flavius, and she's given almost all the plot-critical points of all the other servants. This MOSTLY works, but the removal of all the other servants causes one significant plot train-wreck. In one of the scenes that establishes Timon's generosity, a man comes to Timon stating that Timon's servant has been courting the man's daughter, and that was a completely unsuitable match, since the man was from a respectably middle-class family, and his daughter couldn't marry a poor servant. So Timon gives his servant a big chunk of money to allow the match to go forward.

With the removal of the servants from the play, the plotline is given to Daniel Berger-Jones as Alcibiades, the soldier. This does a number of weird and unfortunate things -- first, it makes it unclear what status Alcibiades is -- is he too low status to be a respectable match for a middle-class woman? But he actually commands a good chunk of the Athenian army -- the reason he can make war on Athens when he's banished is that most of the army decided to go along with HIM. If he's that powerful, why did he need to borrow the money in the first place? Wouldn't he be a good match for a respectable woman?

The other problem is later in the play, when he and his whore meet up with Timon in the wilderness. It would be an awkward enough scene as it is -- but with Timon having personally gotten Alcibiades respectably married, it's even worse.

That's the only really glaring directorial mistake I saw, though, and the rest of the play generally worked rather well for me.

And now let me talk about the set and the use of color. Honestly, the way they designed the set is worth the price of admission right there. Given that there are signs on the doors saying, "Warning: the set collapses partway through the performance," I suppose that it's not really a spoiler to say that the set collapses partway through the performance. We were in the second row, and the gust of wind from the collapsing set would have blown my hair out of my face, if I still had hair. Pretty impressive stuff.

But not as impressive as the way that they started the play out in black and white, and then changed it to full color. I can't explain it better than that. You just have to see it.

To sum up: the play itself is flawed, and there are a few directorial choices that are also flawed. However, the show as a whole works well enough, the set is absolutely spectacular, and, let's face it, when else are you going to get to see TIMON OF ATHENS?

Ticket information and so forth is at http://www.actorsshakespeareproject.org/season6/timon.html
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Date:May 24th, 2010 04:35 am (UTC)
Excellent, spot-on review.
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Date:May 24th, 2010 12:12 pm (UTC)
You left out the final reason for going to see this play: ASP's hard sell of it all season long with comments such as "...And everyone's favorite, Timon of Athens!!" or "...that perennial classic, Timon of Athens!!!". I know it was just maketing, but it worked, at least on me.

Also, thanks for the notes on the set and the story discontinuities, this will definitley be useful for me.

Lastly, I always picture you with hair. maybe not a lot of it, there's a receding hairline vibe, but then I think that and glasses are cute.
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Date:May 24th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
I'll let you rub my head sometime.
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Date:May 24th, 2010 03:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you: I hadn't read the play beforehand, and that bit with Alcibiades' women confused me indeed.
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