As far as the Shakespeare offerings in this first week of openings are concerned, it was third-time lucky.
An uneven Twelfth Night began the 2017 proceedings only to be followed last night by a very disappointing Romeo and Juliet.
The prospect of another “iffy” result was heightened due to the reported multiple sources (most notably Thomas Middleton) for the script and—perhaps as a direct result—its infrequency of stagings.
What a relief, then, that within 10 minutes, it was abundantly clear that any shortcomings in the writing would be readily forgiven thanks to the first-rate cast, typically brilliant design team (designer Dana Osborne, lighting by Kimberley Purtell, sound from Thomas Ryder Payne) and the knowledge, understanding and quiet wit (three cheers: no farce ventured into the Tom Patterson Theatre) of director Stephen Ouimette.
At the centre of it all is the title character, Timon. As the action begins, a quartet of flatterers (poet Josue Laboucane, painter Mike Nadajewski, jeweller Rodrigo Beilfuss, merchant Qasim Khan: all readily convincing in their self-interest) are polishing their latest pitches to drain more cash out of Timon’s—apparently—inexhaustible supply of cash. Once in his domain, several of the perennial do-gooder’s friends are in rapt anticipation of a sumptuous feast and the further prospect of glittering gifts (“mere trifles” according to the donor) from their congenial host.
When Timon first takes stage, veteran Joseph Ziegler immediately serves notice that he is the ever-generous lord. Smiling, glad-handing and instantly waving off any tributes or compliments from his adoring throng.
The only fly in Timon’s ointment comes in the form of pauper/philosopher Apemantus—magically brought to acerbic life by Ben Carlson—who positively revels in being the sole voice of reason, pointing out in vain to Timon that every one of his guests love him only for his bulging purse and extravagant parties. Naturally, very naturally Timon brushes these unflattering comments aside—for, if true—his greatest asset (these friends, artists and merchants) would destroy his rose-coloured view of life and himself.
Nonetheless, what a party it was. Following a sumptuous meal, Cupid (the ever-vivacious Ijeoma Emesowum) and her three “angels” made their sensual way out of the audience and into the banquet hall—immediately raising the temperature and likely a certain body part of the hitherto all-male invitees (and not a female in the covey of devoted friends!). Everyone (save and except for Apemantus) has a blast.
This production has been set in the present day, affording designer Dana Osborne the opportunity to work in all manner of electronics (including selfies, text/video sharing and notebook spreadsheets) into the visual mix. The costumes are also “now”, giving licence to Cupid and her dancers to wear very little (and sprout wings!) and—later a poolside bimbo (Jessica B. Hill devours the part with salacious aplomb) a further chance to raise the blood pressure of the patrons on both sides of the proverbial footlights.
From those moments of mirth and exuberance, everything heads south.
Despite being warned and ignored by his devoted steward, Flavius, (marvellously rendered by Michael Spencer-Davis) that the coffers are long-since empty and mortgages/promissory notes abound, Timon continues his chronic generosity without pause. This combination of “I told you so,” “I can’t hear you,” makes Timon’s descent into humiliation, penury and—living in a cave—misanthropic outlook on everyone—nothing to be pitied: he’s brought it on himself. With vast military honours behind him and obviously a quick mind, ignoring the protestations of his most devoted servant flies in the face of characterization and reason. But without that tragic flaw, there would be no play.
If theatregoers can either ignore or forgive this truly foolish behaviour, then a viewing will be as welcome as the coming redevelopment of the Tom Patterson Theatre. For those of us sitting up at night to read between the lines, this production is as remarkable for the superb acting and production values as it is totally unbelievable that Timon could really be such a fool. JWR