Thursday, June 1, 2017

Play Review: Timon of Athens

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I saw the play "Timon of Athens" earlier this week at the theater inside the Folger Shakespeare Library. I had never been to this venue before, nor had I heard of the play (one of Shakespeare's lesser-known works). The space is designed to look like the Globe Theatre, so it's small and intimate; you can't really have a bad seat. And it had a unicorn painted on the ceiling, so of course I loved that!

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Sorry for the blurry image, but I did like the set. It's very minimal, with some stairs, railings, and lights with a square shape that's mimicked throughout the play (even their money is shaped like that). Even though this is an old play from the 1600's, and originally is written to take place in ancient Athens, this version is very futuristic. The set almost reminds me of something out of Star Trek, with the glowing lights, clear hand-held devices like iPads, and a screen that wraps around the set which shows pictures and videos of people as they come onto the stage. I liked the juxtaposition of the old English with the almost space-age set.

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Essentially the play starts out with this wealthy man Timon (pronounced "Time-in," played by Ian Merrill Peakes) giving away money and gifts to local people. He considers them friends and likes doing nice things for them without asking for anything in return. He is warned by his assistant (?) Flavius (played by Antoinette Robinson) to stop spending so much, and the philosopher Apemantus (played by Eric Hissom) tries to tell him that these people are taking advantage of Timon's generosity. But Timon continues to interact with these people, inviting them to feasts and even hiring dancers (played by Aliyah Caldwell and Amanda Forstrom, and John Floyd as Cupid) to come to a party he was hosting.
There were belly dancers, and I liked how during voice overs everyone started dancing in slow motion. Image found here
But of course we all knew that Timon's money would eventually run out. Eventually everyone is coming to him asking him to pay off his debts, but he doesn't have any money left. When he asks his "friends" to help him out, they don't, because they weren't true friends to begin with. This play certainly teaches the lessons that 1. you can't buy friendship and 2. human beings are and always will be greedy, wanting/taking something for nothing and never wanting to give anything back in return (both true statements that apply to thousands of years of human history, as well as the future, too).

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Timon is very angry that he does not have the support of these people. He invites them over for one last dinner party, and sets a covered pot in front of them. When they go over to open it, they realize that it is not food in the pot, but feces! Timon starts rubbing it on himself and then throwing it at everyone else; a real sh*t show! In the original play, he serves them just water and rocks, but I think the poop is much more dramatic! I do believe it offended some people; there were definitely a few seats that were empty for the second act that had been filled for the first half of the play.

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Act I was really interesting. There were a lot of characters, relationships between them all, complex dialog (yet actually clear to understand because the actors were so good at interpreting the old English with miming and such), real excitement...I was totally ready to recommend this play...until I got to the second act.

Act II starts with Timon in a cave (you would only know that if you had read the play or the notes in the program, so that was a bit confusing), where he has exiled himself. But he does have gold buried nearby (I'm unsure as to whether he found it there or put it there), and somehow word gets around that he has this gold (although he's in the middle of the wilderness, so I'm not sure how people found out...). Anyway, it seems like Athens has sort of fallen apart, and a military captain is now part of a gang that tries to rob Timon of his gold. The captain does not rob Timon because he knows him, but...

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Timon randomly starts flirting with the two women in the gang (the same women who were the belly dancers), rubbing up on them and giving them gold. What was even more random was Forstrom's horrible Eastern European accent. I mean, why?

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Throughout the rest of the second act, other people show up, like Flavius and Apemantus, but it's difficult to know if they really are there speaking to him, or if he's going crazy and he's just imagining them. He seems to ramble on about his hate of mankind throughout the entirety of Act II, to the point that you're completely confused and aren't sure what he's talking about. And then finally the madness ends and he dies (standing with his arms out like Jesus on the cross).

The first half was so good, and then the play just fell apart. The program did contain notes about how this play is viewed as unfinished or imbalanced, and that's totally right. The first half is smart and interesting and entertaining, while the last half is just Timon going in circles in his madness. I honestly didn't feel bad about falling asleep during the second act because I don't think I was missing much; it was all the same.

If you do want to see the show, you can buy tickets here. And if you do go? Just stay for the first half.

PS: Kathryn Tkel is in this play, too. I knew I recognized her, but it took me a little bit to remember that she was in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (which I loved!).

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