Bard on the Beach's Timon of Athens is a tremendous modern adaptation

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Timon of Athens | Bard on the Beach | Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre, Vanier Park | June 26 – September 9, 2018

Sometimes you get a chance to find out who your true friends really are. In this gender-flipping adaptation of one of the Bard’s more obscure works, Timon (Colleen Wheeler), a wealthy and extremely generous woman of leisure, calls in a favour with her friends. She has run out of money and needs a loan. It turns out that her generosity is not reciprocated and she is left to question her relationships and fend for herself. Shakespeare’s original has only two female characters — prostitutes. In this version there are two male actors, and they are wait staff.

Wheeler is tremendous as Timon. She goes from magnanimous to scathing so fast her friends don’t see it coming, and in a crazed fit of fury she dismantles the stage, throwing tiles aside while ranting and raving. This was a joy to watch. While ripping apart the stage she throws insults at her friend, Apemantus (Marci T. House), such as “I would send you the plague if I could catch it” and “Were I like you I’d throw away myself.” Her performance is visceral in its physicality and rage.

Drew Facey's innovative, modern set includes rotating panels at the back of the stage and a table that descends from the ceiling, hung by four ropes. The stage is versatile enough to be dismantled during each performance — never the same way twice — before it has to be reassembled for the next show. The action begins at an animated cocktail party full of multiple conversations. After the revelry is over and Timon has given away more expensive gifts, her assistant, Flavius (Moya O’Connell), tries to talk some sense into her. O’Connell is wonderful as the conscientious aide who resembles an overworked corporate underling. She is loyal to Timon until the bitter end.     

Timon claims, “I am wealthy in my friends,” but she soon realizes that she can’t count on them when she is in need. Bankrupt and questioning everything, she spirals into madness as she rummages in the dirt under the stage. As her white pant suit slowly turns brown, her mental state becomes equally muddy and Flavius’s words ring true: “We have seen better days."

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