Timon of Athens
Even the most dedicated theatergoer can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with “Timon of Athens,” one of Shakespeare’s most rarely seen plays. On first glance, it resembles a third-rate “King Lear” with an unbelievable plot twist thrown in.
But in the agile hands of the Public Theater, which has billed it as “Shakespeare’s play for the post-Bailout Age,” “Timon of Athens” comes off as a moving drama about going from rich to poor overnight.
Labeled as one of Shakespeare’s so-called “problem plays” combining elements from different genres, it begins with Timon generously giving away his riches to his numerous pals.
But once his seemingly endless supply of money dries up and creditors start knocking at his door, Timon is shocked when those same friends refuse to give lend back him a few bucks.
After publicly scorning all of them, Timon leaves town and becomes a homeless recluse and misanthrope. Soon enough, he uncovers a buried box of gold coins and vows to use these new riches to bring down those who abandoned him.
In the title role, Richard Thomas makes a credible leap from a gentle and boyish benefactor to a dirty, wildly theatrical hermit who digs through sand and harbors extremist fantasies.
One could easily compare the play to the oft-told tales of high-living Americans who found themselves without financial security once the recession hit, or perhaps to a local government that suddenly runs out of money.
Director Barry Edelstein has integrated the live wailing of an electric guitar throughout the entire first half, which lends the play the spontaneity and aggression of a rock concert. In one strange and rowdy moment, the entire cast watches the final scene of the film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” followed by some very old porn.
The second half of the play is admittedly less entertaining as Timon rails endlessly against society. But for the most part, Edelstein’s contemporized production is clearly spoken, well-acted and very stylish.
If you go: “Timon of Athens” runs through Sunday at the Public Theater. 425 Lafayette St., 212-967-7555, publictheater.org.