Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
For all the play's difficulties, this production is well worth seeing, in particular for Ian Merrill Peakes' admirable job navigating the character's contradictions and Tony Cisek's sleek scenic design.
While Shakespeare was writing at a time when royalty and nobles used elaborate shows of hospitality to forge alliances, Richmond presents a society where the most important aspect of life is its appearance. When Timon pays a friend's debts and buys opulent gifts, no money changes hands in this world; projection designer Francesca Talenti depicts the transactions as streams of glittering coin-like objects skimming across a screen. On the other hand, in this world every guest at Timon's lavish banquet is identified with a retinal scan announcing the person's name and occupation.
Timon believes that the people he hosts are his friends and never doubts that they would help him in a time of need. He ignores the warnings of Flavius (Antoinette Robinson), his business manager and only true friend, and bankrupts himself, only to learn that the people he has supported feel no reciprocal obligation toward him.
As a work of theater, Timon of Athens suffers from a lack of characters with more than one dimension. Aside from Timon, Flavius, and the cynical philosopher Apemantus (Eric Hissom), they are mostly cartoons: fatuous merchants bragging about the quality of their goods, pompous senators in identical robes, women who use their bodies as a form of currency. At one moment, Richmond makes the subtext literal, showing Timon's guests with knives and forks, about to devour him.
Cisek's set transforms the Folger's Tudor-style theater, sheathing the dark woodwork with shiny, antiseptic metal surfaces, lit by Andrew F. Griffin's cool, almost unearthly lighting. Mariah Hale's costumes trace Timon's descent from the unruffled host in his crisp three-piece suit to the despairing man living in isolation.