Theater review: Rude Mechs’ “Fixing Timon of Athens” rejuvenates Shakespeare

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Photo by Bret Brookshire.

(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)

 

Austin’s Rude Mechanicals have turned “fixing” some of Shakespeare’s less produced, lesser-known works into something of a habit, beginning with Kirk Lynn’s Fixing King John.

Now, the playwright (and co-producing artistic director of the Rude Mechs) has created Fixing Timon of Athens, a rejuvenating take on Timon of Athens that modernizes the language, reconfigures gender imbalances, and streamlines the plot for a contemporary audience.

"Fixin Timon of Athens." Photo by Bret Brookshire.

“Fixing Timon of Athens.” Photo by Bret Brookshire.

Variously classified as one of Shakespeare’s tragedies or one of his complex, ambiguous “problem plays,” Timon of Athens is rarely produced these days, in part because of its somewhat unfinished nature, with strange lapses in plot and character that go unexplained by the text. Many scholars, in fact, believe that Shakespeare wrote the play in collaboration with another author.

In Fixing Timon of Athens, that collaboration extends even further to Lynn who has modernized the language of the play (particularly the curse words and dirty jokes) and simplified the plot in order to focus on the intriguing characters created by Shakespeare.

In Lynn’s hands, these engaging personalities are on dazzling display, including the profligate Timon (Tom Green), his devoted servant Flavia (Elizabeth Doss), her proud lover Vinnie (Robert Faires), the ascetic Apemantia (Barbara Chisholm), vengeful Amazon Alcibadia  (Ellie McBride), and the comedic duo of Braymount (Lowell Bartholomee) a painter, and CeeCee (Robert S. Fisher), a conceptual poet.

Photo by Bret Brookshire.

“Fixing Timon of Athens.” Photo by Bret Brookshire.

Lynn’s paired-down script and the cast’s energetic, meta-aware performance (with frequent moments obliterating the fourth wall) make for a dynamic evening of theater that brings a new exuberance to this lesser-known Shakespearean text.

Indeed, as odd as it is to say, what flaws there are in Fixing Timon of Athens largely come from Shakespeare.

The second act of the play diverges wildly from the first, arresting both plot and characterization for the sake of a kind of philosophizing that might be more at home in King Lear. When the action does come to a conclusion, it seems to be trying to shoehorn in too many morals at one time, focusing on message rather than on character or story.

"Fixin Timon of Athens." Photo by Bret Brookshire.

“Fixing Timon of Athens.” Photo by Bret Brookshire.

Fortunately, director Madge Darlington and co-director Alexandra Bassiakou Shaw bring some dynamic staging to the second act that counterbalances the stagnation of the plot, bringing the audience through to a dramatic conclusion that regains the magic of the play’s opening.

Fixing Timon of Athens revivifies a “lost” Shakespearian text with a well-placed dose of contemporary language, creating a work that feels a lot like a translation of a text from another language.

In a way, that’s exactly what Lynn has done, taking a piece of classic theater that may not quite speak to modern audiences and putting it in the voice of our times. In so doing, he – and the entire cast and production team – have created a work that gives Shakespeare a sorely needed biting edge.

“Fixing Timon of Athens” runs through Feb. 27 at the Off Center. www.rudemechs.com


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