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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Timon of Athens
Nothing could have prepared me for the exhilarating and imaginative production directed by Brian B. Crowe. Although Crowe has been associated with STNJ for sixteen seasons, has directed numerous main stage productions and is currently the Director of Education, Timon of Athens may be setting a new standard for him. It isn't that he has effortlessly trimmed and skimmed the text to avoid the prolonged dreariness and implacable stodginess inherent in the play, but he has re-framed it as a "dark vaudeville."
The eccentric and often intolerable characters that exist within Shakespeare's play first appear as wind-up automatons in an antiquated music box, such as one would find in a carnival funhouse. We can hear the grinding of the wheels that keep the humanized figures moving in time to the measured ticking of the mechanism, also seeing them slow down when they require another turn of the key. It is a stunning eye-opening prologue that greets us. More importantly, they clearly give us a vision of a city and its people engaged in variously vexing activities of daily life, some playing musical instruments, some handing out gold coins as if they were engaged in some sort of reckless philanthropy. . ."ching, ching."
This is a brilliantly devised segue into the play proper as the robotic figures assume more human movements. The humans revert back to their previous state again during the very effective scene changes. We have been led amusingly into the materialistic, morally and ethically challenged world that is the core of the play.
As the title character Greg Jackson may appear to be a clown in his candy-striped coat and his comically fashionable hat. His overly solicitous behavior in front of his fawning guests certainly supports our impression of Timon as nothing less or more than a philanthropic nitwit. Jackson, a veteran of thirteen seasons at STNJ, not only makes the transition from first class sap in the first half of the play to a raging, ranting disillusioned soul in last half, but also makes Timon's disintegration and demise almost unbearably heart-wrenching.
Although this Timon of Athens accommodates a 19th century look, it is the post-bail-out times of the 21st century that will inevitably spring to mind. The surreal setting is notable for the scraps of shredded paper hung everywhere that will eventually fill an entire wall and is presumably meant to reflect the build up of credit and the deteriorating worth of its creditors. Timon is more than wealthy. He is overly generous, obsessed by the concept of extravagance. His excessive/compulsive behavior is brought to a halt when his creditors demand some instant cash. He then has to face the facts that his fair-weather friends are not going to help him in his time of need.
Crowe's version is thankfully less concerned with the play's lack of tension, romance or humor. Rather we are thrown directly into Timon's singular problem: How he contends with the fact that he is suddenly broke, friendless, and seriously disillusioned. Thanks to Gregson's fine performance we become totally involved with Timon's demeanor as he changes from a man defined by his excessive largesse, gullibility, and finally to a man devastated and finally derailed by his naiveté.
There is no time for monotony to set in even during Timon's final and prolonged denouncements on the ingratitude of man. That we get more than we bargained for in this otherwise shapeless shadow of a satirical, comical, tragedy is gratifying. Also impressive is Bruce Cromer as Apemantus, a cynical philosopher with a crippled arm and a sharp tongue. John Seidman is excellent as Timon's loyal steward Flavius. With all the cutting, it's gratifying that time was given to the two usually superfluous wenches in the trenches (Alison Layman and Sarah Quigley) with the staunchly introspective Captain Alcibiades (Brent Harris).
One has to admire the broadly caricatured leeches that assert themselves as wealthy Athenian's, including Scott Whitehurst, as Lucius, Ames Adamson, as Lucullus and Alison Layman as Sempronius.
No one knows for sure whether Shakespeare was in the process of doing an extensive rewrite of a play by Thomas Middleton (a member of Shakespeare's company) or whether Timon of Athens was his own work in the early stages of development. It was never produced during Shakespeare's time. Whether it is his own or not, the muddled play is getting something it hadn't bargained for: Crowe's delightfully daffy but undeniably relevant interpretation.
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