Timon of Athens
Regarded by many scholars as an unfinished, perhaps experimental piece that may not have been entirely written by Shakespeare, Timon of Athens has great potential to be staged in an offbeat style. American Players Theatre in Spring Green has brilliantly realized this potential in what is by far its most accomplished production this season. This year, the APT has fallen a bit short of its usual standards. Timon of Athens goes a long way towards making up for any shortcomings it may have presented in its 2007 season.
Aside from a decidedly modern-looking set, the audience’s first indication of the setting shows up in the usual “turn off your cell phones” announcement, cleverly delivered here as a polite notice from one of the title character’s servants. As the audience, we are all greeted as guests of Timon and encouraged to enjoy ourselves. When characters begin to filter onstage, the overall feeling is that of a posh, contemporary dinner party. All the guests are dressed in white except the Painter and the Poet, who reflexively dress in a classy, reflexively nonconformist black. The Painter (Matt Schwader) carries a tiny black leather portfolio. The Poet (Michael Gotch) carries around a black portfolio of his own that holds a disheveled stack of papers. Gotch and Schwader are brilliantly subtle here, delicately playing the part of pretentiously successful contemporary art-world hipsters – the kind you see nervously shuffling about the Third Ward on gallery night.
Eventually, of course, the title character shows up in the form of a jovial Brian Mani. Mani has a very robust presence in the role, lending an earthy believability to the overwhelming generosity that is Timon’s tragic flaw. Just as Timon’s guests sit to eat at the banquet of his wealth, in walks Jonathan Soots in the role of true individualist Apemantus — a philosopher. There’s not a whole lot of money in philosophy, so Apemantus has little regard for it; he snacks idly on a carrot, acting as an upstage critic to the pretentious proceedings at center stage. With a presence and comportment vaguely reminiscent of a contemporary Mark Twain, Smoots puts in a pleasantly detached performance as he warns of the treachery of bought friendship.
As unfinished as the play seems, the ending is remarkably well handled. James Ridge (who plays Timon’s steward Flavius) moves with a precision akin to ballet, performing motions that are natural and organic, but nonetheless lend a profound sense of closure to the whole play. In just a few seconds, Ridge gives a brilliant performance that turns out to be integral to the production.VS
The American Players Theatre’s production of Timon of Athens runs now through September 29th in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Tickets can be purchased by calling the ticket office at 608588-2361 or online at www.playinthewoods.org