Timon of Athens, Shakespeare Theatre Company

In many ways, Timon of Athens is a blisteringly direct play. Timon has much money and many people who delight in being their friend thanks to the constant gifts and patronage that Timon supplies. Timon loses their money and loses everything else, too. Timon rails against humanity, money, and the citizens of Athens until ultimately, they lose their life.  It's not a play known for a lot of nuance, and it's also not one concerned with the richness of human experience that Shakespeare generally prefers to treat in his plays. For Timon, and for Timon, it's a story largely about our worst selves.

So where do we find the light that makes us want to come to the theatre? For Simon Godwin's inaugural production as Artistic Director at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Timon is a fascinating choice. In some ways, it's a safe choice, as the production was originally produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and this particular version just a few months ago played (and was co-produced by) Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn. On the other hand, who is going to look at Timon of Athens and think, Yes, that's the old chestnut that will pack the houses, and use it as your opening statement as artistic director? Both sides of that particular coin combine in this production, and surely, no matter what choice Godwin made for his first production for STC, audiences will want to see it. 

While there are familiar faces from past performances (and it's a particular delight to have Yonatan Gebeyehu be the first to stride on stage for the second time this season at STC, following his roles in Everybody), it's undeniably Kathryn Hunter who is the real draw to this production. As Timon, a role traditionally played by a man, she is stunning in the fire of her blistering vengeance to her former friends, and achingly vulnerable in her bitterness after her fall from privilege.  She's also an actor clearly longing to play the role on a thrust stage, as she's tremendously good at Shakespearean direct address and connection with the audience. Timon isn't a play about a woman's rage, and casting Hunter in the part doesn't make it one, but for the audience, it's a spellbinding opportunity to see an actor of Hunter's caliber tackle this role and inhabit Timon's pain and fury onstage.

Godwin also chooses where the light shines with care. The role of Timon's steward, Flavius, played by John Rothman, is still the loyal servant to his lady, but it is Arnie Burton's Apemantus, the cynical philosopher, to whom Godwin gives his most poignant moments of emotional connection with Timon. Burton gives the role's sardonic verbal lashings as much relish as when he eats parsnips (ie, considerable), and highlighting their connection throughout the play offers an extratextual grounding and the extra soupçon of humanity that the play needs to find somewhere. I also can't start a paragraph about the light in Timon without talking about the, well, light in Timon. Donald Holder's lighting design does absolutely stunning work, bringing depth, focus, and beauty into Soutra Gilmour's alternatively golden and starkly lifeless scenic designs.

Godwin's production isn't an easy one, but then, we all knew going in that it was a tragedy. There's a hunger in this Timon, however, that feels refreshingly bold for STC's stages, and when combined with the stunning production of The Amen Corner playing concurrently at Sidney Harman Hall, it feels as though 2020 is going to be a hell of a year for the Shakespeare Theatre Company.


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