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Timon of Athens

a Play
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by William Shakespeare

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3875

SHOWING : November 06, 2010 - November 28, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

"We have seen better days". - (Act IV, Scene II).
Timon is a wealthy Athenian noble who responds to flattery by hosting banquets, giving gifts and bailing out his suitors. When his fortune runs out and his friends reject his pleas for help, he becomes an embittered recluse and sees that those who abandoned him suffer

Timon of Athens may be a simple story about a generous and self-indulgent man driven to misanthropy by his fair-weather friends, but it produces an avalanche of philosophical questions: Does Timon deserve our compassion for shunning society and condemning/contaminating the very people he once called friends? Does he deserve to be punished for his vanity and ostentation or is he right to expect more from his parasitic friends? Is there a place for cynicism in society? Money: it can’t buy love, but it can promote hate.



CAST & CREW LIST
Director Drew Reeves
Assistant Director Travis Smith
Mask Maker Beau Brown
Costume Designer Anne Carole Butler
Lighting Designer Matt Felten
Stage Manager Cindy Kearns
Assistant Stage Manager Deborah McGriff
Ensemble Eve Butler
Ensemble Laura Cole
Ensemble Peter Hardy
Flavius, Timon's Steward Paul Hester
Appemantus, a Churlish Philosopher Andrew Houchins
Ensemble Kathryn Lawson
Ensemble Matt Nitchie
Ensemble Daniel Parvis
Timon of Athens Maurice Ralston
Ensemble Chris Rushing
Acibiades, an Athenian Captain Travis Smith
Ensemble Kenneth Wigley
Ensemble Troy Willis
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Masks and Misanthropy
by Dedalus
Thursday, November 25, 2010
3.5
Okay, let’s be honest, here. Shakespeare’s little-known, seldom-performed, never-read play, “Timon of Athens,” will probably never be at the top of your “Gotta See” list. Even Shakespeare geeks like myself tend to avoid it, and, truth to tell, I remembered so little of it from my college days I had to reread the sucker before wending tavern-ward for this mounting.

And, truth to tell, there is plenty about this script to nitpick at – nameless “types” instead of characters, a hero with no shades of gray, a series of episodes in place of true plot development, virtually no female characters, a subplot that blends not at all with the main plot. This was, in fact, an “unfinished” play from the peak of Shakespeare’s career that was (to all evidence) never performed in his lifetime, and was supposedly added to the first folio as “filler.” It’s themes were explored to better effect in later plays.

So, why did I enjoy the production so much?

Simply put, hatred of mankind is contagious, and when Maurice Ralston starts spewing his insults at the world, it’s a banquet of venom that can’t be resisted. Add to this a clever concept of using masks for all the nameless character types and a plethora of effective supporting performances and the result is an enlightening and memorable evening at the tavern.

Timon is a generous and popular Lord of Athens. He is always treating his friends to banquets and gifts and favors, and they, in turn, pour on the flattery like a tapless wine keg. When Timon’s fortunes reverse and he is left destitute, none among his fair-weather friends will step up to his aid. Disgusted, Timon becomes a hermit in the forest, spewing his hatred of mankind to any who wander by. And then he dies.

And, that’s pretty much it. We see some true friends – his servant Flavius who steadfastly remains by him even at the worst of times and under the most venomous of rants, and the soldier Alcibiades, who has his own reasons to hate the general populace of Athens. We see a misanthropic philosopher (Apemantus) who is the only one to speak truth to Timon, but who nevertheless can only marvel at his “all or nothing” nature – either all-trusting and all-giving, or all-hating and hiding from humanity (“The middle of humanity thou never knewest, but the extremity of both ends”). We see Timon stumble across a hidden hoard of gold, and give it away to avoid its apparent curse (is it any wonder this was Karl Marx’s favorite play?). And we see a seemingly endless parade of sycophants and flatterers never get their comeuppance.

Maurice Ralston makes a welcome visit from his new Nashville digs to embody Timon, and his performance is the core of why this production works. Timon, as written, goes from one extreme to the other, but in Mr. Ralston’s hands, we see the dots connected, we see his misanthropy build, step by step, visitor by visitor, until his decision to simply lie down and die is not only understandable, but inevitable. Sure, his loud and ranting moments are stirring and often humorous in their excess, but his quieter, more contemplative moments also work to make this character come alive,

He is given able support by Andrew Houchins as Apemantus, whose misanthropy is more cerebral, less personal than Timon’s. Paul Hester is also wonderful as the devoted servant Flavius, whose own generosity to his former master and his fellow servants gives the play a heartbeat. I would have liked to see more of Travis Smith’s Alcibiades, because, to be honest, that subplot never really takes hold, and the final confrontation with the Athenian senate is a bit weak and wobbly. Still, he makes Timon’s only true friend a vivid and dimensional figure.

Which brings us to the masks. An eight-member ensemble filled with Tavern regulars and apprentices don a series of clever and pointed masks to play every other character in the piece. “The artist” wears a mask shaped like a painter’s palette, "the poet" a mask shaped like a scroll. The senators are all in ghostly seriousness, and the lords in vulpine greed. The servants are simple, the prostitutes elegant. It’s a conceit that works, that highlights how these people are nothing but nameless flatterers. And, the actors actually give them individuality and a modicum of dimension.

So, I seriously doubt anything I say will inspire anyone but the most devoted Shakespeare fan to see this. Of course I think it’s important to see these works on a stage and in the mouths of trained actors rather than knowing them only from a dusty classroom text. There’s something about seeing Shakespeare’s characters, even his “bottom of the drawer, I’ll-finish-it-someday” characters alive and on stage that drives home their immortality far more than any professor’s enthusiasm.

And there is a definite pleasure in watching Timon and Apemantus trade their insults (“Would thou wert clean enough to spit upon” / “I’ll beat thee, but I should infect my hands!” / “Away, thou issue of a mangy dog! Choler does kill me that thou art alive!”).

Ain’t nobody can conjure an insult like Shakespeare!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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No good deed goes unpunished
by Lady Mac
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
4.0
To answer your first question, it’s TIE-mahn, rhyming with “Simon.”

To answer your second question, it’s not really clear why you’ve never seen this play and may never even have heard of it. It actually is quite compelling – and extremely relevant to today’s society. It’s unlikely that Shakespeare had a crystal ball to see our modern culture, so the only explanation is that two-faced sycophants go way, way back.

The aforementioned sycophants are the “friends” of Timon, who lives (guess where?) in Athens and spends money like water to keep his friends happy, healthy and, in some cases, out of prison. Unfortunately for Timon, as his very loyal and extremely fretful servant/accountant has been saying repeatedly, the money finally runs out and Timon is forced to open his eyes to the fact that his friends are a bunch of users and selfish jerks.

Such is the content of the play’s first half, which is the more eventful half. The second half takes us to the remote area of the forest where the newly avowed humanity-hater Timon has taken up residence and receives a series of unwelcome visitors. The dialogue in the second half is sarcastic and witty, giving the tragic circumstances of Timon’s shattered life a very dark humor.

Maurice Ralston as Timon is perfect. Ralston is a master both of being likable and of being sarcastically witty, and he has ample opportunity to showcase both as the “two faces of Timon.” Without going into too much detail to give away the ending, I will say that Shakespeare apparently wasn’t interested in being Hollywood before there was a Hollywood. If you are waiting for the “It’s a Wonderful Life” conclusion with the “no man is poor who has friends” outpouring of support, you might be disappointed. Timon’s character development goes only so far, and Ralston does a fine job every step of the way. His portrayal of the ailing Timon was so realistic that it wasn’t always clear whether Timon or Ralston was coughing up a lung. (Thankfully, the answer is Timon.)

Others in the cast seem at times to be stiff, cardboard or even bad – but after a little while it becomes clear that this is intentional. The characters wear masks to underscore their falseness, and they are really nothing more than caricatures, so what comes across as bad acting and/or overacting really is purposeful. (I think so, anyway!) Two characters, in fact, are so one-dimensional that their masks relegate them to nothing beyond their professions: The writer’s mask has writing implements, and the artist’s mask (my favorite in the play, which is used cleverly as a prop as well as a costume piece) is a palette with paint blotches.

Especially compared with Shakespeare’s other plays, some of the actions in this one seem a little anticlimactic, particularly Timon’s vengeance. Other Shakespearean characters have gone much farther – MUCH – to make their points, so at times it feels a bit bland by comparison. This is not a criticism of the play; it’s just an observation that a few punches were pulled, and that was a little surprising.

Besides Timon, there are only three main characters. All are portrayed well by the actors (Paul Hester, Andrew Houchins and Travis Smith), and two (loyal servant and valiant soldier) make sense. The puzzling one is Appemantus (Houchins), described in the character listing as “a churlish philosopher,” which is accurate. His scenes with Timon are interesting, and the two characters match wits and wage intriguing intellectual battles. But Appemantus’ bitterness and indignation at extravagance and shallowness go too far and cause him to be kind of a jerk on the other end of the scale, even as he is making completely logical points. He is a fascinating character, and he evokes constantly changing reactions that include agreement, disgust and even pity.

This play has a lot going for it, and it has a lot to say. “Timon” could be the poster child for dozens of platitudes. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Money can’t buy happiness. A fool and his money are soon parted. You get what you pay for. Once bitten, twice shy. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Any number of statements about the evils of capitalism/materialism, the honesty of the common folk and the corruption brought about by wealth. And, sadly for Timon, the subject line of this review: No good deed goes unpunished. For him, many good deeds bring cataclysmic punishment. This play is not a big promoter of the concept of karma.

“Timon of Athens” has its critics, and it’s almost never (possibly actually never) performed, but the Shakespeare Tavern has accepted the challenge, and the result is a memorable, thought-provoking night of theater. After seeing this play, you might think twice before lending your buddy some lunch money – at least until next month, when the Tavern presents the Timon transformation in reverse with “A Christmas Carol.”
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