Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rich Man, Poor Man


Thomas and Casella in Timon of Athens (photo by Joan Marcus)
Timon of Athens
Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Barry Edelstein
Starring Che Ayende, Tom Bloom, Max Casella, Reg E. Cathey, Cary Donaldson, Brian Keane, David Manis, Anthony Manna, Greg McFadden, Chris McKinney, Orville Mendoza, Mark Nelson, Joe Paulik, Triney Sandoval, Richard Thomas

Performances through March 6, 2011
Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street

In his modest, at times effective staging of Timon of Athens, director Barry Edelstein for the most part doesn’t underline modern parallels in Shakespeare’s tragedy about a rich Athenian citizen who loses both his wealth and social standing due to false friends and an overgenerous nature, ending up a raging misanthrope haunting the woods nearby.

Much of what’s germane to today’s economically difficult times is right in Shakespeare’s dialogue, so there’s little need for tweaking. Timon (an articulate and intelligent portrayal by Richard Thomas) hears from his loyal steward Flavius (a sturdy Mark Nelson) that there’s no money left for the bill collectors due to his fiscal irresponsibility: “How quickly were it gone!” Flavius exclaims. Timon then defends the charitable actions leading to his downfall: “Unwisely, not ignobly, have I given.” Later, Flavius explains to Timon that none of his so-called friends will lend needed capital by saying that “in a joint and corporate voice” they refuse to help.

Audience members chuckle at that last remark (“He said ‘corporate’,” I can hear Beavis and Butthead saying), confirming Shakespeare’s continued relevance four centuries later. Too bad Edelstein performs odd incisions that unmoor the play, like completely excising all of the female characters. The first act’s banquet scene, where Cupid and women enter and dance with Timon and his guests, has been nonsensically changed to Cupid in a top hat appearing solo and tossing gold coins around, followed by a 16mm projector being brought in to show vintage B&W porn loops and clips from It’s a Wonderful Life, with Timon and guests reciting its famous line, “no man is a failure who has friends.” Though the movie is instantly recognizable to many in the audience, it doesn’t do much to bring Shakespeare’s themes into clearer focus.

A later scene of Timon, living in the woods outside Athens, caustically telling prostitutes to spread diseases to the Athenian men, has also been excised, apparently to keep from derailing more pressing financial matters. Some of Edelstein’s directorial intrusions work, like the Smartcar-sized bowl of caviar at Timon’s feast, which amusingly highlights his foolish irresponsibility.

Edelstein directs briskly on the small stage for the initial Public Lab Shakespeare production, which aims to make staging the Bard more intimate. Curtis Moore’s music, played by estimable guitarist Simon Kafka, consists mainly of riffs and fills that soon grow irritating. Although Thomas speaks Shakespeare’s knotty language beautifully and clearly, the rest of the cast has a tougher time of it: Nelson and Max Casella, as the philosophizing Apemantus, come off decently.

Since even problematic Shakespeare should be staged and seen, this imperfect Timon of Athens is guardedly recommended.

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