Timon of Athens
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Bill Barclay
May 19th - June 13th
15 Channel Center Street
Fort Point Channel, Boston
Artistic Director - Allyn Burrows
Executive Producer - Sara Stackhouse
Project Director - Lori Taylor
Stage Manager - Adele Nadine Traub
Production Manager - Jason Ries
For tickets: Call - 866-811-4111
Order online - actorsshakespeareproject.org
We have all seen the dark side of Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and King Lear, for instance, are some of his most famous tragedies. However, recently, I experienced something that was tragic on a deeper level than any of these plays. In these tragedies there are, although they may be conquered, the virtues of beauty, love, and, above all, good. On the other hand, in Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, as performed by the Actors Shakespeare Company, there is only bitterness and anger.
The story tells of Timon, a wealthy citizen of Athens, who was generous to his guests and free with his money. Surrounded by sycophants eager for gifts, he was the most popular figure in the city. Before long, however, Timon finds himself deep in debt, and must turn to his supposed friends for help. Shocked that wealthy Timon is asking for loans, his "friends" turn him away, making up excuses for their stinginess. Timon realizes that none of them were true friends, and were simply flatterers looking for the wealth which he provided. He leaves the city, cursing all humanity and declaring himself separate from society.
Thus ends the first half of Timon of Athens , which unraveled the plot. Now begins the more philosophical second half. Timon finds himself in the woods, condemning society and digging for roots in the dirt. Yet, instead of food, he finds buried treasure. As he sits there savoring the irony of his find, we see several characters visit him, some purely for gold, others to try and help him in his plight. Nevertheless, Timon rejects them all, for he has lost faith in humanity and thinks that all that remains for him now is death. However, despite the radical change in Timon's character, one thing remains the same: he continues giving gold freely. Yet the purpose of his generosity has changed. Now he gives charity in order to bring about the fall of society. He supports an old friend in his conquest against Athens in the hopes that all its residents will be killed. He gives money to prostitutes, encouraging them to continue their profession so that they can spread disease among all men. He hands gold to thieves, ordering them to match the amount he has given them with thefts from the city. Thus, he does all in his power to avenge himself upon the society that betrayed him.
Timon of Athens was, though somewhat dreary due to the amount of dialogue and lack of action, deeply philosophical and tragic. Actors Shakespeare Project, as usual, did a wonderful job of interpreting and performing. What I particularly loved in this production was the set. Beginning with a large mural comprising the background wall, the play progressed up to the moment of Timon's curse upon humanity, at which point, in one of the most dramatic moments I have seen on the stage or screen, the entire wall collapsed around Timon, leaving only a patch of sky tied to a tree against a background of bricks. Also, in accordance with ASP's style, the props were kept to a minimum. Parts of the mural were used as both doors and tables, and a small patch of dirt in the center served such purposes as a bathtub, Timon's cave, and in the end, his grave. The way the Company used the set and costumes to convey the message of the play was truly extraordinary, not to mention aesthetically pleasing.
Overall, Timon of Athens as a play on its own does not come across as anything special. However, thanks to the brilliant performances and wonderful set, ASP managed to turn it into a brooding philosophical piece, which made quite an impression on me. The somewhat ambiguous ending leaves the audience considering the vices and virtues of humanity, and pondering the tragic story of Timon, whose demise came about through false flattery, greed and betrayal.