Timon of Athens

Ever since Meg Roe made her directorial debut at Bard on the Beach’s 2014 production of The Tempest, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the return of her sui generis stamp on another Bard project (The Tempest was lush and ethereal, an adventure for the senses). 

Roe is back to imprint a feminine spin on this year’s Timon of Athens by setting this Bard on the Beach production in modern times with all lead female roles. I am, however, unsure about the success of her darkly weird adaptation for this play.

Timon of Athens

The central topic raised in Timon is timeless and universal: What is the role of money? Can it buy friends? A wealthy and generous woman, Timon believes that giving is a part of friendship.

“We are born to do benefits: and that better or properer can we can our own than the riches of our friends?” (I, ii, 439-442). She herself does not covet money, but craves the attention it compels. She is surrounded by hangers-on who happily attend her parties, eat her food, hanker for her gifts and lavish flattery.

Colleen Wheeler, Marci T. House
[Colleen Wheeler, Marci T. House]

However, like many people today, Timon is wasteful and living beyond her means. When her creditors come calling, she’s confident her friends will give to her as she has to them.

She is stupefied when, one after another, all the sycophants make up excuses and refuse to help. Outraged, she exacts her revenge by inviting the hypocrites to the parody of an extravagant dinner and serves them nothing but bowls of water.

After rambling and screaming to her false friends, Timon suffers a severe mental meltdown. She tears up her house, shuns all society and vows to live off the land in the dirt hole that was once her home. Ironically, this is also when she digs up a hidden cache of gold. 

Jennifer Lines Michelle Fisk, Kate Besworth
[L to R: Jennifer Lines; Michelle Fisk, Kate Besworth]

By now though, she’s lost all trust in humanity and refuses to reap its rewards, pelting the gold at bandits and all those who seek her, including her faithful assistant Flavius. Timon dies alone, crazed and hateful, in a grave of her own making.

Roe’s adaptation is shortened into a 90-minute single act because a subplot involving a wronged soldier, Alcibiades, who ultimately seeks justice for himself and the ill-treatment of Timon, has been removed.

In Shakespeare’s version, the male Timon is a tragic character who is disillusioned that his generosity is not returned. “To whom ’tis instant due. Ne’er speak, or think, That Timon’s fortunes ‘mong his friends can sink.” (II, ii, 935-936). In the beginning he was foolish and naïve, giving out of largess. In the end he was still foolish but bitter, giving out of disdain.

Colleen Wheeler
[Colleen Wheeler]

Played by the incomparable Colleen Wheeler, the female Timon commands palpable stage presence. In her heyday, followers orbit like satellites around a shining planet; in her downfall, she is a wild, tumultuous cataclysm.

While Wheeler’s performance is impassioned and rousing, the portrayal borders on fanatical. Timon became a raving lunatic in a theatre of the absurd rather than a pitiable ascetic. Much of her keen, bile-filled dialogue is drowned out by both shouting and shifting muzak (courtesy of Sound Designer/Composer Alessandro Juliani).

Moya O_Connell, Ming Hudson
[Moya O_Connell, Ming Hudson]

Even Drew Facey’s swanky, simplistic set contributes to the cacophony, as snazzy heels stomp and clobber across the planks. Despite persuasive depictions by Moya O’Connell as devoted Flavius and Marci T. House as pessimistic Apemantus, the play suffers from poor acoustics.

Voices are fuzzy and I simply could not hear the richness of the script. Without the subplot of a redeeming Alcibiades, Timon recedes into a woman scorned when she loses the attention and status that she craves.

Costume designer Mara Gottler has draped each female character in opulence befitting her societal stature. Silver-spooners flash fashion house labels while wannabes wear lavish knock-offs. Sadly, the superficiality of the phony entourage belies their elegant garb.

Lighting Designer John Webber’s mixed use of soft-hued glows and harsh glaring brights differentiate places and spotlight the flaws and distinctions of each character.

Adele Noronha, Colleen Wheeler Marci T. House
[L to R: Adele Noronha, Colleen Wheeler; Marci T. House]

As a Shakespearean tragedy, the outcome is no surprise. The delivery of the denouement is where the thaumaturgy happens.

All the individual elements of this production are conscientious and well executed. Combined however, Timon’s breakdown is a little over-the-top, the ambient noises a little too distracting and therefore the anguish and message a little lost.

Timon of Athens continues on the Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre at Bard on the Beach until September 9.

Photos by Tim Matheson.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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