Story: Timon spends his time and money entertaining wealthy and important people he considers to be friends at his Athenian home, and is overly generous doling out gifts to one and all. His profligate nature, however, becomes his undoing when his steward Flavia informs him that he has spent his entire fortune.
When chastised for the tardiness of her report, Flavia informs her master that she has repeatedly warned him, but to no avail. Timon then resorts to sending his servants, Flaminia and Servilia, to collect funds from his comrades in order to pay his own debts. That proves problematic when the servants are rudely turned away by Timon’s so-called pals. Angered by their callousness, Timon invites the reprobates to his house for a dinner consisting of rocks and warm water.
Retreating into the hills, Timon denounces all of humanity, foraging for food for survival. He inadvertently stumbles across a fortune in gold, which in part he gives to Alcibiades, an Athenian captain who has sworn vengeance on Athens for a military slight. The insurgency prompts Timon’s former friends to visit him and beg his forgiveness as they negotiate for their lives.
Highlights: As it begins its 29th season, St. Louis Shakespeare is presenting two of the Bard’s rarely produced works to help reach its goal of producing all of the acknowledged plays in the Shakespearean canon by the troupe’s 30th anniversary.
The first of these, Timon of Athens, is currently being presented at the Hunter Theatre at De Smet High School. Director Milton Zoth has truncated this presentation into two acts and less than two hours to make the tragedy more amenable to contemporary audiences. Nonetheless, this version grapples with problems inherent in the script despite some fine individual efforts.
Other Info: Paring down the performance necessarily abbreviates the script and with it some coherence and plausibility for Timon’s actions. As presented here, he all too quickly goes from bon vivant to misanthrope, seemingly in a matter of minutes.
Given that caveat, several splendid performances emerge from Zoth’s rendition. Nicole Angeli stands out as the dutiful Flavia, whose wise counsel is ignored by Timon until he has gone overboard emotionally. Angeli convincingly displays the compassion and unflinching devotion of the steward for her master throughout.
Maggie Murphy’s stylish way with the Bard’s language is impressive in her role of the caustic philosopher, Apemanta, whose logical rejoinders to Timon about spending his fortune are met with disbelief at first and then bitterness. Zoth adds a nice touch with the positioning of Flavia and Apemanta at opposite ends of a lonely stage to conclude each act.
Cameron Ulrich brings power and persuasion to the role of Alcibiades, a considerate captain who respects Timon and beseeches him to rejoin society. As is the case here, Ulrich always demonstrates a command of the language so essential to a successful Shakespearean production.
Michael Brightman capably handles the role of the title character, but again it’s a stretch to display such a starkly dramatic character turnabout in abbreviated fashion. Still, Timon is a man of emotion rather than logic, and Brightman shows us how such a one-dimensional fellow can end up.
There are fine supporting efforts by Carl Overly, Patty Ulrich, Kim Sansone and Chris LaBanca as senators and businesspeople who are happy to accept Timon’s largesse but quick with excuses when he requests their help. Betsy Bowman and Alyssa Ward do well as Timon’s servants as well as a pair of prostitutes in the company of Alcibiades.
Michele Friedman Siler dresses everyone in contemporary garb, which isn’t a problem in that Timon’s money woes can be universal and timeless. Pippin McGowen’s scenic design is straightforward, anchored by a mysterious shape outlined in the background and Timon’s hovel in the woods to stage right. Michelle Wolken provides some well-appointed props, Steve Miller’s lighting complements the setting and Zoth’s sound design adds an Elizabethan flair.
Although it’s rife with problems, there’s still enough polish in this presentation of Timon of Athens to give an audience a chance to sample first-hand one of the Bard’s least popular, and therefore seldom performed, works.
Play: Timon of Athens
Company: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: Hunter Theatre, De Smet High School, 233 North New Ballas Road
Dates: July 25, 26, 27, 28
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 361-5664 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Kim Carlson