Timon of Athens


Through Saturday, Mar. 16

The Wicked Witch/St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church, Raleigh

Bare Theatre has rarely lacked innovative ideas, beginning with Carmen-Maria Mandley’s founding concept in 2001: the spare aesthetic that gave the group its name, placing focus on precise, relatively unadorned acting of Shakespeare’s texts. More recently, its directors have taken us through a prismatic looking glass of imaginative Coriolanus and Macbeth reinterpretations and explored a flawed but thought-provoking feminist take on Titus Andronicus.

But Timon of Athens represents a reboot for the company. It’s the first full-length production since Bare underwent restructuring after an October 2017 staging of Romeo and Juliet and cancellation of that season’s subsequent shows. In recent months, buzz around Timon suggested a bold new vision that plunged Shakespeare’s neglected drama into the conspicuous consumption and unvarnished greed of the nineteen eighties. Reportedly, director Dustin Britt was not only editing this problem play’s problems, but he was also reframing it for what he termed “queer catharsis,” a vengeance exacted on a homophobic culture by outcast LGBTQ characters.

That’s a very tall order to deliver, and Britt’s Timon gratifies in the degree to which it does. The first half unfolds in a hedonistic nightclub reminiscent of Studio 54, where club owner and civic leader Timon (given a grave dignity by Kacey Reynolds Schedler) and retired General Alcibiades (Arin Dickson, in a narrower read) are lesbians whose relationship is destabilized when Athens’s leaders, though more than happy to mooch on Timon’s largesse, take a dim view of her sexuality and subsequently refuse to reimburse her for her gifts.

When a destitute Timon is declared a fugitive, the bitter noble becomes a nihilist, forsaking human company in a cave outside the city. When Alcibiades is banished for advocating for Timon, the gears in an engine of revenge engage, and the onetime warrior organizes an army of street punks in a siege on Athens.

Actor Naveed Moeed sharply contrasts his double roles as Jeweler, the candy man who supplies Club Athens’s cocaine, and Flavius, Timon’s poignant, too-faithful accountant. Emily Levinstone’s work as the glib, misanthropic Apemantus is more convincing than her one-note take on Timon’s servant, Hermès. Hayden Tyler, Elizabeth Galbraith, and Nicholas Tycho Reed are diverting throughout in cameos as guards, punks, bandits, and erotic dancers, choreographed by Heather J. Strickland. But several other double- or triple-cast performances don’t rise to the same level of believability, and an initially riveting debate between Apemantus and Timon over who’s the real poseur runs too long.

The production’s venue is also double-cast, and the clubland atmosphere already in place at downtown nightspot The Wicked Witch covers the meager production values that are more visible in the community shows at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church, though the strategic use of darkness there does come with its own curious intimacy. Despite its clear difficulties, this mordantly funny, toothsome critique concludes that when a society eats its young and disenfranchised, they’re fully justified in returning the favor. Bon appétit.