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Friday, August 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 78.0° F  Partly Cloudy
Arts
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A friend in need
Timon of Athens gets screwed
on
Smoots (left) warns Mani to no avail.
Smoots (left) warns Mani to no avail.
Credit:Zane Williams

I didn't exactly run up the hill to American Players Theatre's production of Timon of Athens, having trepidation about insects and the questions surrounding this lesser-known work by Shakespeare. (When did he write it? Was it a collaboration? An experiment?) I was right to worry about the merciless black bugs but wrong to worry about the production, which is tautly directed by Kate Buckley. It's quite satisfying and well worth the trek.

Magnanimous Lord Timon (Brian Mani) has given so freely to friends and associates that despite the warnings from his loyal servant Flavius (a dignified James Ridge) and the peevish philosopher Apemantus (excellent Jonathan Smoots), his wealth dwindles. When his creditors call in loans he turns to those false friends who have received so much from him, only to be rudely denied. He descends into rage and despair, and we find him living in squalor and solitude in the wilderness outside Athens, digging through rubble for the roots that now sustain him. When he uncovers a buried fortune he funds the banished general Alcibiades' efforts to destroy Athens. Bitter and besieged, Timon meets a tragic end.

Mani has a commanding presence, whether striding nobly across the stage in polo apparel or barking like a dog and covered in filth, having given up on his fellow man. With his forceful performance, you see both the rage and pathos of Timon.

The play isn't without levity. Timon's exchanges of acerbic barbs with Apemantus and the greedy hipster poet (Michael Gotch) and painter (Matt Schwader) priggishly traversing the wilderness are entertaining. Lovely Brenda DeVita is the lone female in the cast and performs a sultry version of Diana Krall's "Peel Me a Grape" during a lavish banquet.

APT deserves praise for producing this interesting work. I'm not always keen on setting Shakespeare in modern times - Hamlet donning a motorcycle jacket doesn't necessarily make the play resonate more with audiences. But in this case;it really works. The stylish sets by Nathan Stuber and smart costumes by Robert Morgan serve the production well.

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