TIMON OF ATHENS
- BACKSTAGE WEST / DRAMA-LOGUE *Critic's Pick
It's rare to find a production of a Shakespeare play you
haven't seen a dozen times, and an audience seeking entertainment might think twice before
attempting to tackle Timon of Athens, which was beyond reasonable doubt only partly
written by the Bard, with not very good contributions from unnamed others.
What will bring people into the theatre is the Sacred Fools Company, a group now in its
second year, which is dedicated to bringing vibrant life to challenging and original works
which invigorate, enlighten, and entertain. (Their words, not mine.) Under Scott
Rabinowitz's direction, Timon of Athens does exactly that.
It's a simple storyline: Timon (Michael Louden), a wealthy player in a high-stakes game of
give and take--mostly take--is joyful benefactor to a bevy of hangers-on who are his best
friends as long as he has deep and generous pockets. Parties at Timon's house are
legendary; the food and wine and women flow fast and classy; the party favors handed out
to his guests are a millionaire's trinkets.
Impervious to the warnings of his steward, Flavius (a sound Jon Hamm), Timon spends and
lends, is a generous patron to starving artists, and foresees no end to his fortune. When
the reality of his penniless situation hits home, Timon finds himself friendless, with
enormous debts, badgered by those who had benefited most from his generosity, and refused
help by those he had helped. His self-indulgent delusions turn to fierce misanthropy, and
he moves from castle to cave, unable to reconcile his friends' betrayal, their greed,
lust, back-stabbing selfishness, and ingratitude. There's a certain nobility in his
inability to adjust to a new scenario, even when he becomes rich once more.
The beauty of Rabinowitz's concept is its creativity. Without changing a word of the
original text, he has set the play in a very modern environment, in which many of the same
evils found in ancient Athens are said to pollute the already polluted air: Hollywood (the
psychological state of) and Las Vegas. It works surprisingly well; one scene takes place
in a casting office on the Warner lot in Burbank, one at the Golden Horseshoe in Las
Vegas. The clarity of Rabinowitz's vision and his inventive playfulness make this totally
accessible Shakespeare (or whoever). In fact, the muddled last third of the original play
is considerably clarified by Sacred Fools.
Liberties have been taken with cross-gender casting--now many of the Senators and servants
are played by women, though still referred to as men in the dialogue. The role of the
churlish Apemantus, a told-you-so philosopher, is played to a fare-thee-well by a sultry
Jill Bennet, who can destroy the vulnerable Timon with a curled-lip sneer or allure him
with a dart of passionate sexuality.
J. Haran is a sturdy Alcibiades, a crooked cop on Timon's payroll; Jennifer Wu, Piper
Henry, and Laura Ford, all playing multiple roles, are at their best as the lascivious lap
dancers who entertain Timon's party guests; Marc Ian Sklar is greasily good as a fawning
poet and rich man Lucullus. Joel Christian makes a fine mark as Sempronius, who refuses
the impoverished Timon because, though he was the first to receive Timon's bounty, he
feels his honor has been flouted because he was the last to be asked for help.
A busy ensemble of 16 players doubles and triples in clashing brass, a jazzy
interpretation of a classic that never was. Majorly inspired set design and changes, sound
design, and lighting by Rabinowitz, Aaron Francis, and Brenda Price, and neat costumes by
- Madeleine Shaner, ©1998 Backstage West/DramaLogue
"Timon of Athens" is not considered one
of Shakespeare's great tragedies. Scholars argue that it is unfinished-roughly sketched
out, with irregular blank verse patterns and some plot inconsistencies.
Director Scott Rabinowitz transports Timon to a Hollywood-esque Athens, giving this seldom
produced play a pointed yet sometimes heavy-handed update at the Sacred Fools Theatre.
Michael Louden is an attractive, charming Timon who begins the play as a godlike,
slightly indulgent philanthropist. He is happy and unconcerned, seemingly surrounded by
friends, partying with high-class prostitutes provided by policeman Alcibiades (J. Haran).
Nothing darkens his life except his sometime lover, an angry Apemantus (Jill
Bennet), and the mild-mannered servant Flavius (Jon Hamm), who quivers over the increasing
enormity of his spendthrift master's debt. Timon soon discovers that when his wealth
disappears, so do most of the beneficiaries of his generosity. When he again finds
wealth-conveniently in Las Vegas, an option that Shakespeare didn't have-he remains
embittered at the shallowness of his fellow men.
In this version, philosopher Apemantus is transformed into a snarling black-clad woman
with eyelids heavily blackened with eye shadow and an even darker attitude. But the exact
nature of the mutual attraction between Apemantus and Timon is never adeuately explained
in this staging.
Rabinowitz does make the nature of Timon's sudden windfall and his demise more explicit
than the original text and it mostly works. Yet he underlines some passages needlessly
with heavy spotlights or lengthy pauses.
Despite its faults, this production enlightens the text, alleviates some plot problems and
features some fine performances, making it well worth seeing.
-J.J.M., ©1998 LA Times
L.A. WEEKLY *Recommended
Shakespeare's unfinished tragedy is a poor relation to King
Lear, both involve leaders who give away their riches to false friends or family and then,
in their time of need, are abandoned by those same beneficiaries. But Timon is a
comparatively repugnant fellow, an ostentatious pleasure seeker who comes across as
shallow as the sycophants who surround him. Director Scott Rabinowitz only partly succeeds
in his stylish, contemporary adaptation of the rarely produced play: In Act 1, the themes
of greed and betrayal translate well to Hollywood and its denizens, and without altering
the language, Rabinowitz ingeniously brings out the humor. But he loses momentum in Act 2,
which, although cleverly set in a Vegas casino, is truncated to focus attention solely on
the static, mad rantings of the disillusioned inconsolable central character. Michael
Louden gives a blustering, Richard Burtonesque interpretation to Timon, creating sparks
with punky Jill Bennet as Apemantus, the surly voice of reason, they're supported by a
deliciously wicked cast of reporters, drug addicts, strippers and second-rate artists. A
diverse backdrop of pop music, ranging from Burt Bacharach to Marilyn Manson, enhances the
production's sleazy atmosphere with musical irony. Even though the second half falls
short, this Timon is worth checking out, if only for the sheer fun and vivacity of the
©1998 LA Weekly