Reviewed by James Karas
Timon of Athens is one of Shakespeare’s least popular plays and was last seen at the Stratford Festival in 2004. It was directed by Stephen Ouimette with the late Peter Donaldson in the title role. That highly praiseworthy production is reprised this year with Joseph Ziegler as Timon and directed by Ouimette, of course.
Timon tells the story of a wealthy Athenian who is genial, kind, generous and extremely popular. He is surrounded by artists, politicians and other Athenians on whom he lavishes money and expensive gifts. Unfortunately Timon lacks sound judgment, even a modicum of common sense and does not realize that the recipients of his largesse are flatterers and leeches. He must have inherited his wealth because he has no idea of how to manage money and he goes broke.
Joseph Ziegler (centre) as Timon with members of the company in Timon of Athens. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann
His creditors descend on him like furious vultures and when he asks for help from his erstwhile beneficiaries his requests are summarily rejected for the best of reasons needless to say. Timon loses everything and develops a virulent hatred of humanity that is the opposite of his genial generosity. His curses and abominations of humanity are astounding in their breadth and depth.
The success of the production is largely dependent on Ouimette’s astute directing and on Ziegler’s outstanding acting. Timon gives jewels and money and throws lavish parties for people who give him flattery in return. The unctuous Poet (Josue Laboucane), the obsequious Painter (Mike Nadajewski), the grovelling Jeweller (Rodrigo Beilfuss), the Senators and hangers-on feed Timon’s voracious appetite and perhaps deep need for flattery until he is left with nothing to purchase that commodity. Ziegler is superb in the “two” Timons. First is the suave, well-dressed, rich gentleman who likes fancy dinners, enjoys good company and basks in the adulation of the parasites.
Second is the misanthropic Timon, dressed in rags, away from his opulent surroundings and gaining some knowledge about human nature without grasping any insight. He finds gold in the cave where he lives and he gives some of it to Alcibiadis to destroy the city and some to the prostitutes to spread venereal disease. Now that is misanthropy. A bravura performance by Ziegler.
Joseph Ziegler (left) as Timon and Cyrus Lane as First Bandit. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Spencer-Davis’s performance as a decent, faithful and honest servant merits praise. Tim Campbell stands out as the tough-minded Captain Alcibiades, a military man and a friend of Timon.
Diana Osborne’s designs are intelligent and appropriate in the difficult confines of a theatre-in-the-round.
The play is produced in the Tom Patterson Theatre which has been reconfigured into a true theatre-in-the-round by adding seats on the wall that was usually reserved for sets or entrances and exits.
An exceptional production of an indifferent play.
Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare opened on June 2 and will run until September 22, 20017 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca