Randall Stuart’s daring new adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Timon
of Athens” disregards convention and overlays modern values and
concerns on a classic work of theatre.
Stuart directs the production of “Tymon,” which debuts in Lisser
Hall this Friday. This drama fuses the ancient world of Athens with
the present day social unrest surrounding the WTO and the 9/11
tragedy, creating a uniquely modern Shakespearean production.
Shakespeare wrote “Timon of Athens” in 1606 as a comment on the
corruption of his seventeenth century society. The protagonist
Timon, realizing the futility and corruption of wealth, renounces
it all and retreats to a cave by the sea. The audience watches as
he is visited by cross sections of the population, all suffering
from the greed Timon despises.
With very little change in original plot, Stuart transforms
Shakespeare’s cave into a desolate alleyway littered with broken
office furniture. Shakespeare’s social commentary becomes Stuart’s
commentary on the state of modern American society and it’s
capitalistic empire: “when they go money-mad, they crumble…just
like Rome,” he said.
“‘Tymon’ intensifies theatre, making it violent and relevant,”
said Gemma Whelan, the head of the theater department.
Stuart experiments with a radical reordering of the theater
space. Rather than adhering to traditional stage and audience
separation, Stuart utilizes avenue staging to help make the
audience a part of the play. The action takes place amid the
audience, almost, as Stuart explained, too close for comfort. “It
makes the play egalitarian,” Stuart said.
Winnie Wallace, the production’s stage manager, commented that
she had more than 30 props sitting backstage, one of them a crushed
Coke can. They were debating using a big orange bag of Cheetos.
One of the most profound changes Stuart made to “Timon of
Athens” is his reversal of gender roles. The only two female roles
in Shakespeare’s original version are dancing prostitutes, who are
recruited by a disillusioned Tymon to help destroy the corrupt
society of Athens. “Even these characters were played by men,”
“I realized that with no apology, and no forethought, these male
roles can be changed to women,” he explained. Thus, the story of
“Timon of Athens” becomes the story of Lady Tymon, played by
Kathleen Turco-Lyon, a member of the Actor’s Equity Association and
visiting from New York specifically to play this role. She and
Stuart co-authored the script.
Lady Tymon undergoes the same journey and encounters the same
characters as in Shakespeare’s work except that, in Stuart’s play,
they have become female. The prostitutes have become male.
“I don’t believe theatre is entertainment,” Stuart said. “My job
as an artist is to touch the audience and actors with my work, to
change them.” Stuart’s “Tymon” is a new twist on an old classic,
which attempts to wake our complacent society to the issues some
neglect to face.
“We’ve become a malaise-y, lazy ass society,” Stuart said.
In a society where free thinkers are rare, “we had better damn
well know what to do with ourselves,” Kathleen Turco-Lyon said.
“Tymon” is one play that won’t allow us to ignore our problems.
“We’re really gonna ask you to stay awake,” Stuart said.