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Fenwick Theater opens season with Shakespeare's 'Timon of Athens'

Published: Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Updated: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 09:09

To start off the 2003-2004 season, the Holy Cross theatre department and Prof. Ed Isser will put on William Shakespeare's tragedy Timon of Athens November 6, 7, 8, and 13, 14, 15 at 8:00 pm in the Fenwick Theatre. Tickets are $10 for the public and $7 for students, and can be purchased on Hogan 3.

Timon of Athens, you say? Both the director and the cast acknowledge that this tragedy, one of Shakespeare's last and least known from his body of work, is rarely produced and this production is perhaps the only time that many will ever be able to see it on-stage. The story is of Timon, a wealthy philanthropist who squanders away all of his wealth in a short amount of time. After doing so, he realizes that all who were near and dear to him only used him for his money, and this opens his eyes to the harshness of reality and the falsehoods of money. During his downfall, dancers and gangsters take over the stage and envelop the audience with their world, the seedy and spectacular 1930's. Timon is played by John Michnya '04, who was last seen as Cyrano in Cyrano de Bergerac.

This world is conveyed through the period costumes of Kurt Hultgren and the ornate set of William J. Rynders, along with music and dances from the era. All pieces come together nicely to synthesize the mast vision of Isser and the words of William Shakespeare into one engaging and impressive work of art.

Isser believes that everyone can relate to the character of Timon, because we all either are like Timon or know a Timon. "Of all the Shakespearian characters, none are more approachable than Timon. He is a modern man: insecure, materialistic, wants love, and has no recourse to family or faith. As long as the money holds out, he's king. He could be you or me, anyone who picks up the tab at the bar could be Timon." Daneille Harrison'04, who plays Timon's servant Flaminius agrees, "The issue of money transforms people, and tests who your friends are. Sometimes, money is the root of all evil and/or devastation." Alpha Gingrich '04, who plays the sage Apemantus, says "the show speaks out to everyone in the past, present, and future, because there's always a Timon in your life, whether it be you or your friend."

Isser adapted Shakespeare's play for the Fenwick stage by cutting it down to two acts and setting it in the 1930's. Isser set it in the 1930's because he believes that it is too jarring to set Shakespeare in the modern world, but also somewhat unapproachable in its classic setting. The 1930s is, according to Isser, "a temporary and chronological distance from out world that bridges us from our time to the Elizabethan era." By doing this, he says, "it's more accurate and flows smoothly, and it makes it more enjoyable. Originally it was problematic and confusing, near unplayable and not a polished piece." Cutting is not new for Isser, who also adapted Shakespeare's more familiar The Tempest in the spring of 2002.

For a lot of the cast, this was not their first time working with Isser. Several actors, including Michnya, Harrison, and Kristen Wheeler '05 who plays Timon's right hand man Flavius, worked with Isser in Tempest. Harrison says that Ed "works us hard, taking us where we need to be, and then lets us go." Wheeler, Michnya, and Gingrich, all stayed during Columbus Day break with Isser for intensive rehearsals to work on technique that the cast called "Shakespeare Bootcamp." Wheeler says about the rehearsals, "I learned so much from [Isser]. He knows his stuff and challenges us. He never wanted us to sacrifice technique for acting values." Michnya agrees, "He knows what he wants and he won't stop until he gets it."

For newcomers, like Tom Morin '07 who plays the villainous gangster Lucius, starting a career in Fenwick with this show was great. "At first," he says, "it was intimidating, since everyone knew one another, but I was welcomed into the Fenwick family. It's great, because everyone is so passionate about what they're doing. In high school, I was involved with the drama department, who was equally focused. The work load wasn't hard to get used to, but the level of commitment was a total change."

Isser knew going into this that Timon would be a challenge for everyone involved. "The bar was set high," he says, "but the greatest pleasure is to reach above the safety zone and to take a risk. It's a dangerous production because we 're not doing something safe, like Romeo and Juliet [Isser is directing this show at the Foothills Theatre in Worcester next spring]. The greatest chance of failure, however, is the greatest chance of success."

All the hard work the cast has put into this production shows. "It all pays off, especially with Shakespeare," says Michnya, "It you get up there and only emote, it becomes vomiting words. If you don't have the technique it becomes an emotional wash and the audience won't understand." Gingrich says, "[Isser] wants to jump off the cliff and see if he can fly. This is the culmination of my experience at Holy Cross. I never wanted to pursue a career in classical theatre before Timon, but now thanks to this show I do."

Timon will be playing all this and next weekend, and is an opportunity that the Holy Cross and Worcester communities should not pass up.

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