Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Timon of Athens
Also see Richard's review of Little Shop of Horrors
First, it's rarely performed. Really, when are you going to get another chance to see Timon of Athens? Remember, it may be Shakespeare, but it's not something the whole world is likely to rush out and buy a ticket for. And "cash" is not a four-letter word in the arts.
Second, with the respected Milt Zoth directing, it's actually very good, with lots of freshness and realism in the acting style, and some pretty respectable comedy too. And at barely 100 minutes (including intermission), it all goes by in a snap, at the very pleasant rented theater at De Smet Jesuit High. (Reason 2a: Lots of free parking.)
Third, though you'll probably always get more New Deal type liberals (like me) at a play like this, it also works nicely as a kind of fable of failing social-welfare empires, with a generous benefactor going broke handing out gifts to all his friends in Athens. (I guess that's just politics, though, and huge automakers in Detroit and wealthy brokers on Wall Street almost never refused a government handout in the recent economic collapse.)
But then, when his friends refuse to help him out of his own financial distress, Timon (here, the gracious-turning-to-bitter Michael Brightman) lays a curse on them all, involving climate change and rebellious children and sexually transmitted disease. So, even if it's a bit harsh, it's still pretty stunning, coming out of 1623 or so like that, right?
Anyway, the whole thing is effortlessly brought up to date with parties and cell phones and fashionable modern clothes. And a modern flair for humor, displayed especially well by Carl Overly, as one of the "friends" who regularly accepts Timon's largesse. Nicole Angeli, as a sort of chorus/personal assistant to the great man, is constantly warning of the impending collapse of Timon's empirehe owes twice as much as he owns, at the outset of the playbut somehow, he can't stop showering everyone with tokens of his affection. And it's very important to note, Mr. Brightman, in the title role, is completely genuine about the whole thing.
Until he's locked out of his own home, by his creditors, that is. Then there's a wonderful, "Little Red Hen" sort of sequence, where all of Timon's aides go from "friend" to "friend," beseeching them for ready cash. It may be the high point of the show, watching as each of them finds a falsely ingratiating excuse to turn their back on him. Patty Ulrich, Kim Sansone and Chris LaBanca are all very good in those consecutive scenes, finding ways to say no; and Timon's aides, Maggie Murphy, Betsy Bowman and Alyssa Ward, are perfect in their exasperation.
Cameron Ulrich is plausibly noble and strong as an outcast general, who later torments Athens, and Kim Sansone and Chris LaBanca return as corrupt senators in splendid acrimony when things go bad. And, when Ms. Angeli and a handful of others find poor Timon out in the desert, it's tragedy with a light touch, as his heart has turned to bitterness.
But, like Timon himself (when he makes an archaeological find in the ruins), the whole thing is a very nice surprise, if you're like me and thought you already knew everything you really needed to know about William Shakespeare.
Considered by some to be a collaboration with Thomas Middleton or possibly George Chapman, Timon of Athens continues through July 28, 2013. The play is performed at De Smet Jesuit High School, 233 North New Ballas Rd. 63141 (located around back of the school). For more information go to www.stlshakespeare.org or call (314) 361-5664.