“Timon of Athens” is not among Shakespeare’s greatest hits, but its production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater directed by the company’s founder and artistic director Barbara Gaines, is surprisingly powerful.
The thin story line deals with money and the quick reversal of fortune. The language is Shakespeare’s but the actors are in contemporary dress. In this production Timon (pronounced ty-mun) has prospered in an ever-rising bull market, so the setting packs a contemporary punch.
Tony Award winner Ian McDiarmid has the title role. He arrives, complete with sun glasses, at a party he is giving for his wide circle of friends. The British actor is expansive as the generous host of what soon disintegrates into an orgy. The bonds of friendship are extolled, and when a friend repays small debut, Timon rips up the cash.
Only when the evening ends does his trusted associate Flavius corner him long enough to tell him that not only is Timon broke, but deeply in debt. Flavius is played by Sean Fortunato, fresh from the highly acclaimed “Enron” at TimeLine Theatre. Fortunato gives depth to his character, which makes CST’s wordless conclusion to the drama even more upsetting.
Flavius contacts Timon’s many friends, but they do not help. Embittered by this betrayal, Timon invites them back to for a riotous dinner at which he serves stones and angrily denounces them all.
Equally bitter is Timon’s friend and Athenian captain Alcibaides, who is banished from the city-state for defending one of his foot soldiers, arrested and charged with a crime. Danforth Comins brings intelligence and sensitivity to this military man. One of his most stirring lines, “I say, my lords, he has done fair service and slain in fight many of your enemies” could have been written today.
Timon leaves Athens and lives, inconsolable and half-starved on a beach, a beautiful set with sand hills and a sea on the horizon, designed by Kevin Depinet. But, surprise! The ragged recluse discovers buried gold and word gets out. His friends return one by one, but he is not fooled.
The end is chilling. Like arrogant Wall Street bankers, men in suits, puffing on fat cigars, arrive to fawn over the newest master of the universe. To discover who that is, see this timely and very disturbing play.
“Timon of Athens” runs through June 10 Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier. Tickets are $44 to $75, with a 40 percent discount on parking. Call the box office at 312-595-5600 or visit www.chicagoshakes.com.