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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

A Vivid Introduction to Rarely Seen Timon of Athens

Timon of Athens
Greg Jackson (center) and cast
When the audience enters the auditorium of the Main Stage of the Shakespeare Theatre, it is met by the sight of ten sinister-appearing, mechanical, robotic humanoids whose jerky movements in place are accompanied by the sound of metronomic ticking. Occasionally, they briefly move to a new position in synchronization to a brief tinkling tune. The actors portraying these humanoids, including a male with a tuba and a female with an accordion, are ghostly figures in whitish makeup with eyes lined in black. They are cloaked in black, grey and white Victorian garb with excessively tall high hats. Above the actors, red and white lights which blink on and off in different combinations are strung all about the open stage. With these and other effects, and the generous use of original musical underscoring composed by Peter Fleming, director-adaptor Brian B. Crowe has given us a compelling and imaginative production of William Shakespeare's rarely performed and lightly regarded Timon of Athens which has the form and feel of a weighty concept musical.

The wealthy Timon is extravagantly generous to all who in turn fawn upon him. The cynical philosopher Apemantus comes to observe and mock his friend Timon's generosity and the greedy flatterers who fill his house. Timon is deaf to his steward Flavius' warnings of approaching insolvency, and is blindsided when he learns that he is hopelessly in debt to his creditors as all of his land is either "engaged" or lost. Timon believes that "I am wealthy in my friends." However, they refuse to help him, stating that he has been "irresponsible" and that they "cannot" help him. Facing debtors' prison, Timon invites all his "friends" to a last feast at which he serves them stones and bitterly excoriates them before fleeing naked from Athens into the wilderness of a forest. Although much lies ahead, including Timon's discovery of a cache of hidden gold, here Timon comes to the end of his life, full of hate and bereft of his humanity.

Although there is the glorious language that is unique to the Bard in Timon, it is overwritten and repetitious (e.g., we see Flavius and two other loyal servants seek and be denied funds for Timon after it is established that none will help him), and its plot arc is overly apparent from the start. Thus, it represents quite a challenge to successfully mount. Director Brian B. Crowe and his cast and designers have risen to the task.

Timon has been trimmed to a one act, 95-minute presentation, and equipped with a concept which provides the play with a felicitous frame for its disparate comic, fanciful, horrific and tragic elements. The frame provides a sense of a universe gone horribly wrong and inhumane. With the musical underscoring, as the dehumanized citizens of Athens acquire money to the sound of "Ching, Ching," we are transported to a stage world reminiscent of Harold Prince's Cabaret and Sweeney Todd. Major augmentation is provided by the imaginative setting by Crowe and Brian Ruggaber, the particularly evocative lighting by Andrew Hungerford, and the often colorful costumes of Pamela A. Prior.

Greg Jackson convincingly evokes the extremes of emotion which engulf Timon. Neither Shakespeare nor Jackson play for our sympathy. Bruce Cromer gets the best lines as the cynical Apemantus and makes the most of them. The varying reactions which Timon and Apemantus have to one another as they argue in the wilderness are a highlight of this production.

Brent Harris is solid as Alcibiades, the army captain who is encouraged in his own grievance against Athens by Timon. Geoffrey Owens (A Poet) and Eric Hoffman (A Painter) stand out among the hypocrites of Athens. John Seidman is appropriately likeable and sympathetic as the loyal Flavius. In fact, each member of the large cast makes a solid contribution without hitting any false notes.

Purists may well have caveats about liberties which have been taken with the text. However, despite the absence of the scene in which Alcibiades confronts the Athens senate and is banished, the plot is remarkably intact. And I would judge that most Shakespeare Theatre audiences will be more than a little surprised at the pleasure to be derived from this Timon. And pleasure they did take at the matinee which this reviewer attended.

Like the chemically and biologically created robots of Karel Capek's pioneering R.U.R., the denizens of Athens in this Timon "lack nothing but a soul."

Timon of Athens continues performances Evenings: Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7:30 pm (except 7/24); Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm, through July 24, 2011, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online: www.shakespeareNJ.org.

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare; directed by Brian B. Crowe

Cast:

The House of Timon:
Timon, a noble philanthropist: Greg Jackson
Flavius, his loyal steward: John Seidman
Flaminius, a servant: Jasmine Batchelor
Servilius, a servant: Quentin McCuiston
Lucilius, a servant: Greg Mallios
Apemantus, a cynic philosopher, friend to Timon: Bruce Cromer
Alcibiades, a captain in the Athenian army, friend to Timon: Brent Harris
Lucius, a wealthy lord: Scott Whitehurst
Lucullus, a wealthy lord: Ames Adamson
Sempronius, a wealthy widow: Allison Layman
Ventidius, a wealthy lord and senator: Dan Lawrence
First Senator: A. Benard Cummings

Additional Lords and Senators of Athens:
Jessica Ires Morris, Cameron Berner, Tom Ciarleglio, Eric Hoffmann, Geoffrey Owens, Christine Sanders An Old Athenian: Brent Harris
His daughter: Erica Knight

The Artisans of Athens:
A Poet: Geoffrey Owens
A Painter: Eric Hoffmann
A Merchant: Jasmine Batchelor
A Jeweler: Quentin McCuiston
Cupid, a purveyor of physical pleasures: Jessica Ires Morris

Cupids Dancers:
Cameron Berner, James Costello, Erica Knight, Sarah Quigley, Aubrey Neumann
Timandra, a prostitute: Alison Layman
Phrynia, a prostitute: Sarah Quigley

Other Artisans:
James Costello, Greg Mallios, Sarah Quigley, Lena Chilingerian, Aubrey Neumann

The Servants And Debt-Collectors:
Hortensius, servant to Ventidius: Cameron Berner
Caphis, servant to the First Senator: Scott Whitehurst
Isidore's Servant: Eric Hoffmann
Varro's Servant: Dan Lawrence
Titu: A. Benard Cummings
Lucius' Servant: Ames Adamson
Philotus: Lena Chilingerian
Clitus: Geoffrey Owens

Additional Debt Collectors: James Costello, Erica Knight, Sarah Quigley, A Messenger James Costello

Others: The Barker: Jessica Ires Morris
First Stranger: Geoffrey Owens


Photo: ©Gerry Goodstein


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- Bob Rendell



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