Richard Thomas, filthy, wild-eyed and feral in the title role of Shakespeare's “Timon of Athens,” is fatally upstaged in the second and much better half by an Athenean general on the lam.
In the first act, Timon awakens to the idea that a rich man’s friends are apt to be deserters when the coffers have run dry. His transformation from urbane spendthrift to nutty forest-dweller comes faster than you can say “the party’s over.”
Alcibiades, the general, suffers a different but no less transforming change of heart. When one of his soldiers is sentenced to death for a murder of passion, Alcibiades’ pleas for mercy before the Athenean senate fall on deaf ears. All his sacrifices mean nothing to these bureaucrats, and so the military man, exiled, vows to return and exact revenge.
When these two meet in the forest, Timon doesn’t stand a chance in what becomes a duel of acid wit and nerves.
Thomas has had modest success as a stage actor despite a near total lack of range. His voice is a slightly adenoidal fog and any modulation merely emphasizes that quality. It’s impossible to get into Timon’s sorrow and disappointment.
Reg E. Cathey’s Alcibiades overwhelms Timon with a baritone musicality so rich you forgive the martinet his sullen hissy fit. When Thomas challenges him verbally, you want to call time out and ask him whether he’s gone as crazy as his character.
Director Barry Edelstein, who runs the Public Theater’s Shakespeare programming, has cut the heck out of this problem play while inserting modern dress and a reference to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to emphasize, I guess, the idea that money ruins everything, especially friendship. Not exactly a new idea.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag. Mark Nelson and Max Casella are especially miscast as Timon’s faithful steward, Flavius, and the truth-telling philosopher Apemantus. Neither can convince us that Timon is anything but a fool. Speaking of Fool, there is none, nor are there any prostitutes (the only women in this play), though there was a brief flash of a stag film following the “Wonderful Life” scene.
Through March 6 at 425 Lafayette St. Information: +1-212-967-7555; http://www.publictheater.org Rating: *
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(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)