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Review Roundup: Gender-Swapped TIMON OF ATHENS - What Did the Critics Think?

Timon of Athens

Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA; Jeffrey Horowitz, Founding Artistic Director) has brought William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens to the stage, a co-production with Shakespeare Theatre Company in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Director Simon Godwin (Measure for Measure) returns to TFANA with a reimagining of his vibrant staging of Timon of Athens, which premiered at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2018 - the first time the play had been staged with a female lead.

Timon of Athens opened at Theatre for a New Audience's Samuel H. Scripps Mainstage at Polonsky Shakespeare Center on January 11th. The production will run through February 9th.

The American company will be led by the internationally recognized Kathryn Hunter, whose Timon is re-gendered as female, as is the character of Alcibiades (Elia Monte-Brown).

Timon of Athens is a play for all times. Hilarious, satiric, and deeply moving, it explores ingratitude, wealth, and what determines self-worth. Timon lives in a world of opulence, throwing wild parties and lavishing gifts on her friends. But, when Timon suddenly loses her fortune, almost everyone abandons her. Timon retreats to a forest, exchanging luxurious gowns for sackcloth, in a powerful journey of self-discovery. This production of Timon of Athens marks the 33rd of Shakespeare's 38-play canon that TFANA has produced. The last major New York production of Timon of Athens was 2011 (Public Theater) with Richard Thomas in the title role.

Let's see what the critics have been saying...

Jesse Green, The New York Times: Hunter's generosity as a performer - listening intently, never grandstanding - spills over into her interpretation, giving us a Timon who chooses to think the best of her toadies. Rewarding the poet's fatuousness, the portraitist's flattery and the jeweler's smarm with gold, she believes she is modeling a higher form of love. But perhaps she is needier than she seems.

Helen Shaw, New York Magazine/Vulture: Godwin's production, originally mounted at the Royal Shakespeare Company and co-produced with D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company, has his careful stamp. He and Emily Burns have cut the text intelligently, interlacing some of the repetitive debt-collection scenes into Jacobean montage. (It might have been possible to slice it even closer to the bone-a little of that banquet scene goes a long way.) Casting Hunter was a masterstroke. She has one of the great theatrical voices (warm but with a sawtooth edge) and eyes that burn and hurt at the same time.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: If I had to hazard a guess, popularity-wise, Timon might rank at the very bottom of the Bard's oeuvre, just below Coriolanus and just above the three-part Henry VI. This makes the TFANA production, headlined by the formidable Kathryn Hunter, all the more exciting: It's not only a chance to see a rarely performed piece, but it's also a chance to see it done slickly and smartly, with women playing actual roles including the kick-ass revolutionary Alcibiades (Elia Monte-Brown)-not just whores who have a few lines here and there, as in the original.

Michael Sommers, New York Stage Review: While Timon's desolate existence recalls the heath scenes of King Lear, Hunter's contemporary acting style plus the surreal visuals established here as the character doggedly digs herself deeper into the earth evokes Beckett, which certainly puts a modern edge upon the 400 year-old drama. With her croaking voice, glistening eyes, and quick gestures, Hunter suggests a magpie as Timon initially darts among her guests and later scrabbles in the dirt for food. Reworking the character as a forceful woman does not significantly alter the play's cautionary message about cultivating false friends, but it's a pleasure to see Hunter cast her singular presence over the production.

Thom Geier, The Wrap: Whether she is sponging up flattery or unleashing fury, Hunter in the title role is a lithe dynamo of energy whose command of the stage belies her diminutive stature. Her Act 2 exile to the wilderness, digging in holes and braying at the injustice of her plight, suggests a kind of first draft of King Lear's retreat to the heath in the storm. (Hunter has actually played Lear, as a man.) There are other standouts in the cast, too, including John Rothman as the loyal servant whom she turns on and the trio of Shirine Babb, Dave Quay and Daniel Pearce as Timon's all-too-fickle friends.

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