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Bare Theatre has taken upon itself one of Shakespeare's plays without evidence of it ever having been performed during Shakespeare's lifetime. In fact, the play, Timon of Athens, as it was handed down to us, is not in the same form as almost all of the Bard's other plays. Many scholars believe the text of this work to be a rough draft of a play as well as a collaboration with another author, most likely Thomas Middleton. The language is different from Shakespeare's other plays as well, frequently switching from verse to prose (and vice versa), sometimes even mid-line. So there are reasons why Timon of Athens is so rarely done. Nevertheless, many scholars point out the richness of the poetry in this piece and compare it to King Lear, another tragic figure who shuns mankind.
In taking on this play, Bare Theatre makes many adjustments in their interpretation: The production takes the misogyny of the work to its extreme. Also, director Dustin Britt brings the work into the twentieth century, circa 1987, and makes Lord Timon the owner of a nightclub, Club Athens. But the singular largest change Britt makes to the work is that he recasts Timon as a woman (Kacey Reynolds Schedler). The reasons for this are his own. The club is themed as a Goth establishment, where leather and black attire are common. At the beginning of the play, the club is doing quite well, but soon it falls on hard times and Timon cannot pay her debts. When she turns to her "friends" for assistance, she is universally rebuked and driven to shun her fellow man. But in this deeply dark reiteration performed by Bare, she does far more than shun. In the dinner scene, in which Timon insults and degrades his creditor guests, Lady Timon goes even further: she murders the lot.
The one powerful individual who escapes with his life is Senator Philotus (Nick Iammattoo). Though he suffers a painful broken hand, he is the only man of influence who survives. It is he who brings society's wrath down on Timon, driving her out of Athens and into a cave outside the city.
Before Timon leaves the city, while she is scavenging for food, she discovers, hidden in a trash can, a briefcase that is laden to the gills with gold. But rather than use this gold to try to pave her way back into society's good graces, she hoards it, and she gives it only to those who may suffer by its use. The only one on whom Timon looks with favor is General Acibiades (Arin Dickson) because (in this case) she is the one person whom Timon believes has enough power and enough ill will to do Athens real harm.
In using the Goth drape over the text, director Britt is able to insert a variety of kinds of violence into the play. The women universally hate the men. It is Gen. Alcebiades, Timon's closest friend, who asks the question, "Who is woman who is not angry?" The rule of the day seems to be "do unto others before they do unto you." Nearly every scene has some kind of violent altercation in it. There are guards posted everywhere, and all go about in fear.
While this interpretation of the work might be valid, in that it takes Timon's hatred of mankind to its logical conclusion, I had a very difficult time with this show. The violence seemed to me gratuitous, enacted for its own sake. And it detracted from Shakespeare's text; so intent were we on when and to what degree the next violence would be that we were not listening to what was being said. Any time you draw the emphasis away from the text, you are leaving yourself open to real trouble. Britt also seems to have gone to extremes in the use of darkness. Many scenes are played out in the dark of the surrounding woods after nightfall. There is a penchant for lighting a scene with hand-held flashlights or candles, which barely illuminated the carrier's face, let alone anything else. I had so much trouble trying to listen to what was being said that by the middle of the second act I had stopped trying.
I have to state that Britt's interpretation of this play is simply not my cup of tea. Whether he succeeds in his work is something he must judge for himself; his aim was lost on me. I can see where he was headed in carrying the "hatred of Mankind" in Timon's mind to an extreme, but the emphasis was so deep upon the means that the end was not only unjustified but, for this viewer, lost entirely.
Timon of Athens is being played in two different venues through Saturday, March 16. One is the St. John's Metropolitan Community Church on Maywood Ave., just off Lake Wheeler Rd. The other venue is downtown, at the Wicked Witch. This venue allows for the "full" production with a more complete light show. For more details on Bare's production and performances of Timon of Athens, please view the sidebar.