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May 11, 2012

TT: The show...

In today's Wall Street Journal I review two Shakespeare productions, Chicago Shakespeare's Timon of Athens and Classic Stage Company's Midsummer Night's Dream. Here's an excerpt.

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In Barbara Gaines' version of the rarely performed "Timon of Athens," the title character (played with coolly arrogant panache by Ian McDiarmid) becomes a high-rolling futures trader who gets caught in a credit crunch and finds one day that his closest "friends" have stopped returning his calls. What brings Ms. Gaines' idea to life is the boldness of her theatrical gestures, coupled with the clarity of her thinking. For her, Timon is a vain, self-centered fool who makes the mistake of thinking that the smooth sycophants who surround him like blood-sniffing sharks care for him, not his money. Give them iPads and put them in bespoke suits and you get a "Timon of Athens" that plays like a cross between "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "Citizen Kane."

Timon-of-Athens-Chicago-Shakespeare-Theater-2012-Sean-Fortunato-as-servant-Flavius-at-right-is-alarmed-at-Timons-lavish-giveaways-credit-Liz-Lauren.jpgThe comparison to "Kane" is of the utmost relevance, not only because the fast-moving cross-cutting of Ms. Gaines' staging is conspicuously cinematic but because she and Mr. McDiarmid have trimmed Shakespeare's text as ruthlessly--and creatively--as did Orson Welles, "Kane"'s maker, when he edited "Julius Caesar" for his 1937 Broadway production. This "Timon" has been similarly compressed and reshaped in such a way as to give it the shadowless simplicity of a fable....

When high-concept Shakespeare stagings go astray, you get something not unlike the scattershot first part of Tony Speciale's up-to-the-second modern-dress version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which feels more like a bag of tricks than a carefully thought-out production. It also feels like a vehicle for two biggish stars, Christina Ricci (as Hermia) and Bebe Neuwirth (doubling as Titania and Hippolyta), neither of whom appears to be at ease with the unsparing demands of classical acting. On the other hand, just about everybody in the cast is trying way, way too hard, going for easy laughs like a purse-snatcher goes for little old ladies with great big handbags.

Be patient: Things start looking up as soon as the sleeping lovers are discovered in the enchanted wood and Puck (Taylor Mac) pulls the donkey's head off Bottom (Steven Skybell) and turns him back into a human being. Mr. Skybell describes Bottom's dream with sweetly wide-eyed bemusement, after which he and his fellow "rude mechanicals" enact "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe," Shakespeare's brutal parody of a rustic staging of a classical tragedy, with a gentle gravity that is surprising in just the right way....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted May 11, 2012 12:00 AM

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