If you could choose between a drama that was Karl Marx's favorite play—one that excoriated the wealthy, had some of the best one-liners ever written and featured full-frontal nudity—and a love story with fairies . . . well, as CIA director George Tenet would say about WMDs in Iraq, "It's a slam-dunk!"
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In this topical, 400-year-old Shakespeare play, wealthy Timon (an incredible Sean Tarrant, acting with vast range) loves doling out the moolah: he's a savior to those in debtor's prison, a patron of the arts, and a lavish gift-giver to his already moneyed friends. A man who enjoys making others happy while also getting off on the encomium, Timon's gentility disappears when the fiscal well abruptly runs dry. As creditors begin hassling him, and all of the fair-weathers who regularly sup at his table turn tail, Timon is soon homeless, naked and alone, raging against his faithless countrymen and actively plotting their destruction. I won't tell you anymore, but let's say that only the hardest of hearts would resist the urge to pitch a few Molotov cocktails by the end.
Aided by Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz's sharp, prison-like lighting design and Douglas-Scott Goheen's cold, monolithic scene designs, director Robert Cohen's concisely staged and streamlined adaptation plays so smoothly that it's hard to pinpoint exactly where the Bard's original ends and Cohen's handiwork begins. While the second half bogs down a bit from a surfeit of exposition, the trajectory of Timon's downfall—as well as the nagging feeling that it could happen to any of us—moves the piece forcefully to its electrifying ending.
I could hope an audience would prefer the misanthropic, politically radical TimonofAthensover the crowd-pleasing inanity of, say, AMidsummerNight'sDream, but after years of theater as a patron, producer and critic, I just can't imagine there's a huge audience for this play aside from Shakespeare completists or students required to watch it for lit class credit. And that's a damn shame—but at least it leaves more Timonfor those of us who appreciate it. The rest of you can stay home where you belong: with your Friends.
TIMON AT WINIFRED SMITH HALL, CLAIRE TREVOR SCHOOL OF THE ARTS, UC IRVINE, W. PELTASON DR. NEAR MESA RD., IRVINE, (949) 824-2787. THURS.-FRI., APRIL 28-29, 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M. $9-$17.