American Players Theatre: “Timon of Athens” and “Misalliance.”
Saturday the 15th we made the pilgrimage to Spring Green to wind up our APT season with a double header of “Timon of Athens: and George Bernard Shaw’s “Misalliance.”
“Timon” is Shakespeare’s much debated tragedy: early or late, finished or not, collaboration or not. None of those questions made any difference to the very fine production APT brought to the stage.
The tragic Timon (Brian Robert Mani) is spiritual ancestor to Mr. Toad from Wind in the Willows. Like Toad, he is a profligate spender, excessively hospitable, and, when things go wrong, dives to the pits of depression and wallows there.
“Extravagance” is the keyword of Timon’s character. He gives and buys extravagantly, and, when his presumed friends fail to rally round to bail him out of his financial crisis, he curses them and Athens extravagantly, and then, even casting aside his clothing, goes to live in “the woods” and survive by grubbing for roots like a beast, rejecting all the hands that actually are offered to assist him. Timon refuses to recognize the irony of his own position: when he was wealthy he refused repayment of loans, and gave away his fortunes asking nothing in return: nevertheless, he is surprised when that’s what he gets in his hour of need and never admits that his campaign to buy friendship was built on a false foundation. When he stumbles upon a buried treasure, instead of using it to repair his fortunes, he continues his hermit lifestyle and gives some of it to the rebel general Alciabiades (David Daniel) on the condition that he use it to destroy Athens. Spurning the help of his loyal steward, Flavius (James Ridge) and the fearful Athenians’ call to return and save them from the wrath of Alciabiades, Timon dies alone in his miserable retreat.
In this case, the decision to update costumes to modern day worked well. When Timon and the men of Athens he calls friends gather to feast, their white dinner jackets provided an ambiance that Georgie called “half Las Vegas casino owner, half Godfather.” Timon’s wilderness refuge is a squalid piece of junk-littered waste land, where he sleeps in an abandoned oil tank, which perhaps intentionally refers to the Cynic philosopher Diogenes, who lived in a tub. Timon follows a number of Diogenes’ other reputed behaviors including behaving like a dog (who Diogenes considered wiser than men) and his diet of roots.
“Timon” is pretty much a one man show, whether the protagonist is effusing or ranting, and Mani handled it brilliantly. It is a rather over-the-top character, but he had just enough restraint. He was ably supported by Jonathan Smoots as the Cynic philosopher Apemanthus, Ridge, and Daniel, as well as the APT company playing faithless friends, loyal servants, and clamoring debt collectors. The audience responded with a spontaneous standing ovation at the end.
After a picnic dinner, we bundle up against the chill and went back up the hill for “Misalliance.” This is a more than usually didactic Shaw piece, with the soft center of a domestic comedy enrobed in layers of editorial comment. Unlike some others of Shaw’s work, such as “The Devil’s Disciple,” or “Arms and the Man,” there is no central debate. Instead, each of the characters takes a turn (or two) expounding their own particular take on life and the social issues of the day. Discussion subjects include parents vs. children, brains vs. brawn, labor vs. capital, feminism vs. middle class mores, business vs. art, and others. In fact, the characters spend so much time talking about their own ideas, that they hardly interact: they are self-centered, self-justifying, and self-satisfying. In fact, if the play has a hero or a villain, it’s hard to see who it might be since the most and least admirable characters (in my opinion) Lena Szczepanowska (Tracy Michelle Arnold) and Johnny Tarleton (Marcus Truchinski) are peripheral to the plot. That being said, the full-house audience gave every evidence of thoroughly enjoying the play, as did we. A lot of laughs were elicited by the witty (and constant) dialog, wonderful comic timing, and a plot that left us guessing how it would all turn out. Excellent performances by Smoots as John Tarleton, the rather befuddled paterfamilias, Sarah Day as his more with-it wife, Carrie A. Coon as his bored daughter, Chris Klopatek as her apparent suitor of last resort, and the others that completed out the cast.