“Timon of Athens” is considered one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. However, scholars will sometimes lump it into one of his problem plays because of its treatment of a common societal problem. If Porters of Hellsgate had any problems with this play, they hid it very well. At its worst, their production is good. At its best, it is absolutely stunning.
Timon, played by Thomas Bigley, is a pillar among the upper echelons of Athenian society. He is exceptionally generous with his wealth and because of that is highly regarded and loved by all of his colleagues. However, when Timon “gives” himself into the poor house, he discovers very quickly that all of his supposed friends want nothing to do with him. Timon is then left to reconcile the bitter truth that his friends loved his money/gifts, but actually cared very little for him.
Bigley does an exquisite job of portraying a man who in all earnestness believes that he has true friends, as opposed to the greedy, opportunistic leeches that surround him. There is an honesty and gullibility in Bigley’s Timon that sets him up so beautifully for his catastrophic fall into bitter ruin. The crowd of friends that surround him are so overt in their greed that one almost expects them to break out into “The Money Song” from “Cabaret.” Director, Charles Pasternak, has created an over-the-top world in which these people even move in choreographed patterns as they dance in and out of Timon’s presence to humbly receive his gifts.
This choreography is more successful in some scenes than others – namely the scenes that Pasternak himself isn’t acting in, as he also plays the Poet – but the overall world created is a perfect commentary on the materialistic society in which we live. However, not everyone takes advantage of Timon, and it is in the second act that these characters and the true heart of the play shine. One of the most beautiful scenes in the play opens the second act, and for the first part not a word is spoken.
Timon’s steward, played by Sean Faye, and his servants, played by Eliza Kiss, Pasternak and Nick Neidorf; quietly clean up the remnants of Timon’s final dinner party. The pomp and choreography are gone. The sorrow that they feel for their employer’s loss is palpable for they know him to be a great man that has been horribly taken advantage of. When Faye finally breaks the silence it is in hushed tones because he creates a new loss; that of the tragic, grief-stricken camaraderie that can never be expressed with words, and in trying, it fades away. A subsequent scene between Timon and Apemantus, played by Cynthia Beckert has an amazing simplicity and honesty to it that is mesmerizing.
Pasternak did a masterful job of casting and creating two starkly different worlds that each holds their own definition of truth. Taylor Fisher’s scenic design portrays these two worlds wonderfully. The design is simplistic yet effective, utilizing minimal set pieces and elegant curtains for the city of Athens. However, most notable is the painted forest in the second act. It is obvious that Fisher has a keen artistry as it is well composed and has a great usage of light, dark and transitions. Pasternak is also able to use the transition from Athens to the forest to great effect.
The two aspects of this production that stand out as inferior to the rest of the parts are the costumes and the lighting. The costumes are very hit or miss with no obvious cohesion – or disjointedness – of design. The most distracting is Timon’s costume in the second act, which is torn to tatters, presumably from wandering around a dirty forest full of branches and such that caught his clothes. However, the “tears” are so precise that they are clearly made with a pair of scissors, and the pants themselves are as clean as the day they were bought. In contrast with the honesty that abounds in the second act, Timon’s costume comes off as distinctly false.
While it isn’t distracting, the lighting design, for the most part, seems to have two modes: everything on and lit evenly, or everything dimmer than necessary and lit evenly. But everyone could be seen, and there were a couple of variations, so when all is said and done it was successful. Especially for a smaller house with what one would assume is a limited grid.
“Timon of Athens” is not one of Shakespeare’s best plays, but this production makes up for it with an outstanding cast helmed by a talented director. Oh, and Nick Neidorf, as the musician, does a pretty fantastic rendition of Bob Dylan’s, “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” to bookend the acts. All in all, it is time well spent at the theater.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News