Review: ‘Timon of Athens’ at Cutting Ball (****)

by Charles Kruger

Brennan Pickman-Thoon stars in the tile role of Shakespeare’s “Timon of Athens,” a rich man abandoned by fair weather friends.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Poor “Timon of Athens” — he doesn’t get much love. Rarely produced, this lesser Shakespearean play was most likely, scholars tell us, a collaboration with a lesser playwright, Thomas Middleton. It is counted as one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays.

So, why this production? Cutting Ball director Rob Melrose feels that in spite of its flaws, the play contains some of Shakespeare’s finest poetry, and he set out to find a style of production that would showcase the best, and minimize the worst. He succeeds.

Here’s the story in a nutshell: Timon is filthy rich, and loved for his generosity. In fact, he is so generous he gives away his entire fortune without realizing it. When bill collectors come calling, he can’t pay the tab. Is he worried? Of course not! He knows his friends will take care of him, because he has taken care of so many. Bad call.

Not surprisingly, Timon is disappointed and quickly learns the old truth: “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.”

The play explores three possible responses to this sort of disappointment: Timon responds with bitterness, leaves society, and settles himself as a misanthropioc hermit in the forest. His friend, the soldier Alcibiades, facing similar ingratitude from city leaders, declares war on Athens. Another acquaintance, the stoic philosopher and poet, Apemantus, remains aloof, insisting that he expects little from anybody, and therefore avoids disappointment.

The poetic heart of the play lies  in the monologues delivered by these three, which showcase Shakespeare’s mastery of the philosophical soliloquy. It may not be Hamlet, but it sure ain’t DaffyDuck.

Timon’s misanthropic summary of his predicament is one of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues among actors, and can be a tour de force. The excellent Brennan Pickman-Thoon as Timon makes the most of his opportunity, delivering a memorable harrangue. Keep an eye on him!

As the soldier Alcibiades, Ed Berkeley is dignified and athletic as the role demands. An interesting character, Alcibiades might be considered Shakespeare’s rough draft for the more famous character of Coriolanus, and it is easy to imagine Berkeley succeeding in that role. (Casting directors and Shakespearean companies, please take note.)

As the Stoic philosopher, Apermantus, David Sinaiko comes close to stealing the show. He relishes his pessimism like a fine wine and, when confronting Timon in the forest, his depiction of schadenfreude (delight in another’s suffering) makes one shiver with recognition.

Courtney Walsh is sympathetic and quite moving as Flavius, Timon’s loyal steward and truest friend.

Director Rob Melrose’s  staging clarifies any confusing plot points, and is especially entertaining when the cast depicts Timon’s over-the-top parties, thrown when he is spending freely. Speaking of over the top, it is necessary to call out John Steele, Jr. who is hilarious as a party boy, but equally effective as the puzzled Lucilius, the only one of Timon’s friends who seems to have a conscience. The eccentrically charismatic Steele has been showing up in a number of productions for various companies around the Bay area, and his star deserves to rise.

The rest of the cast performs well, delivering a “Timon” that entertains. Shakespeare fans will be pleased to see a first rate production of a rarely-produced play from the canon.

Timon of Athens” continues an extended run at Cutting Ball through May 6th. For further information, click here.

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Rating: **** (for an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

“Timon of Athens,” by William Shakespeare. Presented by Cutting Ball Theater. Director: Rob Melrose. Scenic Designer: Michael Locher. Costume Designer: Alina Bokovikova. Lighting Designer: Heather Basarab. Sound Designer: Cliff Caruthers. Intimacy Choreographer: Maya Herbsman. Dance/Fight Captain: John Steele, Jr. 

Cast:

Timon: Brennan Pickman-Thoon. Flavius: Courtney Walsh. Alcibiades, others: Ed Berkeley. Apemantus, others: David Sinaiko. Sempronius, others: Radhika Rao. Ventidius, others: Douglas Nolan. Poet, others: Adam Niemann. Lucilius, others: John Steele, Jr. Flaminius, others: María Ascensíon Leigh.

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