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TFANA’s Timon of Athens Shines Bright Like Unearthed Gold Treasure

TFANA’s Timon of Athens Shines Bright Like Unearthed Gold Treasure

The Cast of Timon of Athens. Photo by Henry Grossman

This is one of those ‘problem’ plays of Shakespeare’s. Scholars, after studying the text of one of Shakespeare’s least favored plays, Timon of Athens, gives partial writing credit to Thomas Middleton. They have stated that probably about 40 percent is Middleton’s work and 60 percent, with a focus on the later half, is clearly Shakespeare. One can feel that. It’s Shakespearean but one that stubbles on itself with its social commentary and unclear themes. It’s rarely performed because of its many complicated aspects, like the central character, who we are supposed to gather behind, being miffed when asked to pay the debts that supported the lavish lifestyle of Timon’s home. But the later lessons that float up after the fall feel true and meaningful; that material generosity doesn’t buy support, love, or security. Those ideas seem to resonate solidly within Timon and the rest of this very solid cast, but are these lessons learned enough to hold us for the length of this tragic play?

Kathryn Hunter as Timon of Athens. Photo by Henry Grossman.

Thankfully, this Theatre for a New Audience and Shakespeare Theatre Company production, in association with The Royal Shakespeare Company, shimmers with the golden luster rivaling the opulent opening Act. Directed with precision and clarity by Simon Godwin (RSC’s Hamlet), the edited down version courtesy of Emily Burns and the director, finds the buried treasure within its structure and restructuring. It is formulated for impact and edited for clarity, but the heart, pain, and force lies most determinately in the hands and arms of the slight but formidable Kathryn Hunter (Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) who grabs hold of the titular character with such delicious gender-flipping force that we gladly join her in her King Lear-ian decent into hermetic pseudo madness. Her fall under the piles of bills due and the beautifully recreated and typically repetitive debt-collection scenes surge the dig forward. The creative team, alongside the stellar cast, unearths treasure after treasure, while Hunter’s steadfast brilliance powers through the messy construct, finding its sly genius in the way she can alter a thief’s determination or drive a man to eat and drink the unthinkable.

Arnie Burton as Apemantus and Kathryn Hunter as Timon of Athens. Photo by Henry Grossman.

The structure, laid out with intricate grandeur by set and costume designer Soutra Gilmour (Broadway’s Betrayal) with a solid lighting design by Donald Holder (TFANA’s He Brought Her Heart…) and sound design by Christopher Shutt (RCT/BAM’s Escaped Alone), discovers the gold under the dirt. Act one seems to be about Timon understanding her own misconception of loyalty and friendship, while Act two focuses on making sure the other players have learned their hard lessons as well. Standing alongside, watching the fall like Lear’s Fool is the wonderful Arnie Burton (Rattlestick’s Lewiston/Clarkston) as Apemantus. He is the wise philosopher who attends Timon’s  banquet and berates all of her guests as greedy flatterers and parasites. We know he’s right from the get-go, and Timon of Athens, the play and the character, doesn’t have much further to go on this issue. Like Lear, we see the titular character and his/her flaws from the very first moment. The rest is about understanding their mistake and internal flaw. It’s fascinating that it takes a brilliant woman, like Glenda Jackson’s Lear and Hunter’s Timon to fulfill the argument and bring it home. King Lear does it with more depth and detailed precision, while the lessor Timon is not as sure footed and precise, but here, in the beautiful halls of TFANA, Timon of Athens gets about the best treatment one can hope for, digging up the buried treasure and presenting it with unearthed surprise. Luckily, we are all there to watch it shine in its authentic glory.

The Cast of Timon of Athens at Theatre For A New Audience
Shakespeare Theatre Company in association with The Royal Shakespeare Company. Directed by Simon Godwin. Photo by Henry Grossman.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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