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Timon of Athens at Chicago Shakespeare Theater | Theater review

Shakespeare’s late, little-seen play features an idiosyncratic central performance by Ian McDiarmid.

Photograph: Liz Lauren
Timon of Athens at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Lord Timon is the toast of Athens, known for the free hand with which he heaps gifts upon his associates and bails out those in need. But as his loyal steward Flavius (Sean Fortunato) keeps trying to tell him, the money’s not his; Timon’s generosity has put him deep into debt, and when his creditors come calling, he finds the former beneficiaries of his largesse unwilling to return the favor.

With its opening image of slickly suited stock traders huddled under video screens flashing multicolored tickers and graphs, it’s tempting to think of Barbara Gaines’s modern-dress production of this little-seen Shakespeare work as Timon of Enron. (The presence of Fortunato, star of TimeLine’s recent production of Lucy Prebble’s play about the energy giant’s market manipulations, reinforces this impression.) Certainly there are echoes of the modern market, though with Mike Tutaj’s video design and Susan E. Mickey’s costumes suggesting the 1980s, Gaines’s idea may have been more filmic Wall Street than literal Wall Street.

McDiarmid, the British stage and screen star perhaps best known stateside as Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars films, gives a highly detailed, idiosyncratic performance as Timon, who turns bitterly misanthropic and exiles himself from Athens following his betrayal. Yet he and Gaines don’t demonstrate a point of view about the man’s motivations. Which is madder—expecting the best of humanity or expecting the worst? Blues-rock interludes by sound designer Lindsay Jones are weirdly incongruous.

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