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REVIEW: ‘Timon of Athens’ is one of the most exciting productions in a generation

timon071111_optBY STUART DUNCAN
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
N.J. THEATER REVIEW

By any scholarly standards, William Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens” qualifies as a “messy play”. First, of course, in the plot, hesitant and contradictory, based, it would seem on real life misanthrope of the late fifth century B.C. The work begins by showing the joyous life of the title character and his hospitable extravagances, then turns abruptly to his pecuniary embarrassment and the discovery that his professed friends will not help him. By the end of the play, Timon has fled into the woods, and eventually death.

In fact, Timon finds a hidden treasure in the woods. But so great is his disillusionment and hatred of mankind that he has no desire to make use of it. He gives part of it to Flavius, his faithful steward, and another part to Alcibiades, the Athenian captain, to enable him to launch war against his own country.

Among the bon mots to come from the play is the term “Timon’s banquet”, a feast at which only rocks are served. Timon gives such a feast to bid farewell to his former friends and express scorn for them.

The second major stumbling block is the actual history of the work itself. Apparently it was never performed during the playwright’s lifetime, appearing for the first time in the folio of 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death. Naturally enough, scholars have assumed that the work is not finished and have assigned much of the play to a minor writer, Thomas Middletown, known chiefly for satirical and romantic comedies. Scholars have tried to assign dialogue and entire scenes to one playwright or the other.

And so “Timon of Athens” is rarely performed and has developed the reputation as one of the “Bard’s most obtuse and difficult works – called by one critic “dazzlingly nasty”. Perhaps that is what drew director Brian Crowe at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey to the challenge. He is staging a 90-minute version of the long-neglected work that Crowe believes “is something our audience (probably the best educated and sophisticated in the state) has never seen before.” In doing so he feels has trimmed the vitriol, brought out the allegory and embellished the feeling of Moulin rouge. A mostly veteran company returns to Madison for the production.

And the result is one of the most exciting productions in the past generation—a blend of vaudeville, Grand Guignol and Brechtian decadence. The evening is much more than the original simple allegory of excessiveness and greed, much more than self-serving senators, a raging misanthrope, voracious debt collectors, a noble friend, or a loyal servant. It is a multi-faceted diamond, polished to its finest sheen and now a value beyond compare.

Greg Jackson who plays the title role of Timon is a thirteen-year veteran of The Shakespeare Theatre, most recently in “The School For Wives”, “The Winter’s Tale” and “Amedeus”. Playing Flavius, Timon’s loyal servant is John Seidman (4th season) remembered for “Taming Of The Shrew” and “The Tempest”. And making his Madison debut as Alcibiades, the banished Athenian officer, is Brent Harris, fresh from a national tour in “The lion King”.

Also in featured roles are: Bruce Cromer, as Apemantus, the cynic who mocks Timon for his gullibility (his fourth summer); Ames Adamson, as Lucullus, a lord who happily enjoys Timon’s hospitality but refuses to do anything for him in return (his ninth season). Also for his ninth season, Scott Whitehurst as a flattering lord, Lucius, who refuses to help him pay off his debts.

You can see that one of the secrets of the company’s huge successes and reputation are the loyalty of the actors who return year after year and directors who do the same. Director Brian Crowe in past seasons has drawn praise as well as awards from local critics. The Star-Ledger named him “One of The Most Ingenious Directors’ for his work on “Love Labors Lost”. And then later, Best Director of a Drama for “Julius Caesar”. Expect to see him named again.



 

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