Review: Trippy ‘Timon of Athens’ Captures Essence of a Decadent Decade

By Kim Jackson

Club Athens has commandeered The Wicked Witch in downtown Raleigh for club performances of Bare Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. A member of the cast stands sentry while others are careening madly through the bar area. Hits from the 1980s, like Relax (Frankie Goes to Hollywood), are pumping through the sound system, setting the prevailing mood for  Director Dustin Britt’s ambitious production. This is the tale of a most generous citizen who conflates the dispensing of checks to greedy patrons with receiving loyal affection from this group. While the cash flows, so does the party, until it doesn’t, as Timon soon discovers.

Kacey Reynolds Schedler addresses the title role with relish, surveying the club scene with wry amusement, moving confidently amongst the dancers. The DJ cues the Eurythmics’, Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and Don’t You Want Me, by The Human League bringing attention to the dance floor, as the audience is fully transported to the Reagan era of self-indulgence. Clad in black with colorful accents of pearls and sequins, the revelers partake in all the club offerings, swirling to the music. This gender fluid cast of characters pushes the boundaries, capturing the essence of a decade of decadence.

Britt serves up an exuberant, immersive theatrical experience of one of Shakespeare’s lesser known and performed plays; he fully commits to presenting the excesses of that decade in the first act to the point that it is almost dizzying. It’s often hard to know where to place one’s focus as a dozen or so actors frolic and prance about the stage. The mood is frenetic as favorite 80s songs are spun and the crowd enthusiastically responds with vigorous and vivid dance numbers choreographed by Heather J. Strickland.

The free-spending Timon soon meets her day of reckoning, however, despite repeated warnings from her dutiful servant, Flavius. Naveed Moeed adopts a stereotypical Indian accent as he frets for his over-generous Lord and is subject to her harsh rebukes. The atmosphere becomes even more charged as the creditors surround Timon and her “friends” deflect her pleas for financial assistance. Professor Apemantus, played with the right combination of cynical tone and dry wit by Emily Levinstone, offers disparaging remarks on the baseness of humankind and fuels some of the contempt that Timon now experiences for the decadence she has financed.

Her loyal General Alcibiades, played with passionate pugnaciousness by Arin Dickson, rages at the opportunists who have exploited Timon as ferociously as she offers her love to her friend. She doesn’t need much additional motivation to wreak revenge on behalf of Timon.

The second half of the play sees Timon retreat into a cave, bitter with resentment and disillusioned about humankind. She has descended into a hellish place mentally and physically. From the pulsating, colorful disco lights of the club scenes to the ominous darkness of Timon’s cave, Matthew Tucker’s effective lighting design adds to the tone of the piece. This cast also demonstrates their versatility in the fine execution of the brutal fight scenes choreographed by  Tara Nicole Williams.

While the plot is less convoluted than most of Shakespeare’s more popularly produced plays, the dialogue is dense, lacking the clarity of some of the Bard’s other works. Some scholars lay blame at the feet of Thomas Middleton who is rumored to have collaborated on the text. Smartly, Britt focuses on the action of the drama that stems from Timon’s activities, which is where most of the entertainment value of the play lives. Indeed, many of the actors morph from one character to another, often taking on double and even triple roles with a voracious ferocity. At times it was a struggle to make sense of all the activity with the frequent movement on stage, but it didn’t distract from the overall drama. Like the 1980s, this play is saturated in excess, and the final twisted tableau takes the edge off, or maybe even accentuates, an otherwise dark ending.

Timon of Athens runs through March 16th with club shows at The Wicked Witch alternating with community shows at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church. For more information visit: https://baretheatre.org/.

Click here to watch the RDU on Stage interview with the cast and creatives of Timon of Athens.

Featured photo by Matthew Tucker.

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