Theatre review: Bard’s gender-switched Timon of Athens still one-dimensional

Timon of Athens

When: To Sept. 9.

Where: Bard on the Beach, Vanier Park.

Tickets & Info: From $24; bardonthebeach.org

Timon of Athens is not one of Shakespeare’s better efforts. With little subtext and only a single subplot — which Meg Roe has cut in her stylish, slimmed-down Bard on the Beach production — the play is one-dimensional. And Shakespeare hits that one note hard, like a medieval moralist illustrating why humankind on its earthly journey should avoid the deadly sins.

Noble Athenian Timon suffers from the fatal vices of profligacy and pride. The rest of the populace, with nary an exception, are greedy hypocrites. Shakespeare’s characters are all men except for a couple of prostitutes who make a brief appearance. In Roe’s update, all but two minor characters are women.

But the gender switch doesn’t carry any thematic weight. As Timon, the excellent Colleen Wheeler gets to play some scenes with the kind of muscular dramatic pitch rarely afforded women in Shakespeare. Otherwise, Roe’s women are just as callow, foolish and flawed as Shakespeare’s men.

This Timon is a high-society hostess who throws lavish cocktail parties for her upscale friends with their six-inch heels and busy cellphones. They exchange expensive gifts and pledge their solidarity to each other.

Ignoring the warnings of her loyal steward Flavius (Moya O’Connell) and cynical pal Apemantus (Marci T. House), Timon discovers the true parasitic nature of her so-called friends when her debts come due. Extreme as ever, she curses the world and retreats to a cave, becoming as bitter and negative as she had been cheerful and optimistic.

Like a low-grade version of mad King Lear on the heath, Wheeler’s Timon goes magnificently crazy, railing against the universe while ripping apart what had been the floor and foundation of her elegant living room (kudos to Drew Facey’s set design), tossing large squares of lumber and flinging heavy two-by-four timbers in a frenzy.

Her monologue, though, has none of Lear’s great poetry or complexity. There are hints of generosity and tenderness when Apemantus come to visit her, but mostly they try to outdo each other in misanthropic insults.

And Shakespeare really jumps the shark when Timon discovers gold in the cave. As Wheeler plays it, Timon finds this hilarious. She can’t believe the irony. But that doesn’t make the discovery feel any less ludicrous.

In addition to Wheeler’s outstanding performance, O’Connell is quietly impressive as serious, sober Flavius and Quelemia

Source:: Vancouver Sun – Entertainment

      

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