The One and the Many

Timon of Athens

I saw Timon of Athens at Bard on the Beach last night. It was very different than other productions I've seen there, and very different than what I was expecting. A person I was with described it well as a cross between Beckett and Shakespeare. The play descended into chaos as Timon descended into anger and hatred.

It starts out with many different conversations going on. People gather for a party. There's no central conversation nor central action but you see the dynamic between Timon and the others. It's chaotic and you don't know where to look.

Timon gives gifts to several people and offers to pay someone's debts. Timon is generous and naive but not reckless nor wallowing in decadence. Over the top gifts and offers yes but nothing offensive.

The party over, one of the guests walks through talking on a headset phone and discussing making someone pay their debts. Timon's servants tell her how in debt she is and get it through to her. Timon convinces them to go to her friends, those who had been at the party, and ask for help.

The servants go to each of the friends and are turned away. There's no real transition. The next friend simply walks on. In one case it seems like the servant observes the friend talk with her daughter before approaching her. Almost as though she were present but not.

The servants return empty handed and Timon tells them to arrange another party. The friends come. They show some shame about their refusal to help but assume Timon solved the problem. They are ready to take advantage of her. Timon acts reasonably normal until they all sit down. She gets more and more biting until she tells them to reveal their dinner which is warm water and air. She throws water on one of them and throws plates around, getting more and more angry. Much noise and chaos.

Timon continues her destruction and starts ripping up the stage. It's made of large wooden tiles. She goes around flipping them over and away, knocking parts of the stage out, and ripping out what was supporting the tiles. There's empty space underneath which is dirt and there's a hole. She ducks down under the stage periodically while ripping it apart.

During this it seems like she hits cables that control lights. Several go off and move as though to a dead state. Strange cacophonous music.

She finds some gold and rages about it but changes nothing. She is apparently in the wilderness but there's been no transition in space from the party other than her destruction. People from the party stand around in the audience. They look on aghast but not truly present.

The philosopher who refused gifts from Timon comes and they argue. Timon goes from anger to conciliation to rage and the philosopher leaves. Some robbers arrive and want the gold. Timon gives them some. A person from the party arrives and admits she knows Timon has gold yet claims to be a true friend. Timon tells her to go and murder people and then come and talk to her.

Timon's main servant arrives and convinces her she is a true friend. Timon gives her gold but her behaviour shows she is beyond caring about anything but anger at humanity. She acts mad.

More and more lights go out and the cacophonous sounds continue. Eventually Timon, wearing white but dirtied from being under the stage, is captured in white light which goes out. She's dead. Another of her servants reads her bitter epitaph. The play ends with the servants sharing their grief and dividing the gold.

The lighting and sound in the latter half of the play was particularly interesting. The sound was loud and discordant and had a very glitchy quality to it. A modern aesthetic. It was as though the whole set was reflecting Timon's mental state. Her raging caused her mind to implode is what you surmise.

I went in having read a bit about the play and the main parts I expected were present, but in a compressed form. Partly because of there being no transitions between places. Timon leaving to the wilderness from Athens was not explicit. You wouldn't know that's what happened other than by hints from the dialogue.

It was more experimental than what I've come to expect from Bard on the Beach. Certainly not traditional. Another play I saw this year, Lysistrata, with nearly the same cast was also a unique take. They started with the core material but added new dimensions to it. These productions are a lot more compelling than putting the play in a new locale or time period but keeping it otherwise the same.