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Free Shakespeare is back in Central Park, so summer must have started. However, an institution like the New York Shakes peare Festival has a responsi bility to stage the lesser known plays of Shakespeare as well as the more celebra ted major works.
Unfortu nately, when a play by Shakespeare is lesser known there is usually a very good reason for it. Yet the flat simplicity of the play's structure and its lack of any true development does make it a little tedious. Also, In that worthy but fool ish Athenian, Timon, we have the dullest and least con vincing of all Shakespearean heroes, who even dies off stage and hardly ever lives.
Timon is the dullest of dogs. The first or the big time spenders, he lavishes his wealth buying the friend ship of sycophants and flat terers. At last his resources are exhausted, but when he asks his supposed friends for money they, naturally enough, deny him. This turns him against humanity—and as a hermit he spends the second half of the play railing against society and society's ills.
He becomes the most boiling of misanthropes—and is not even cheered when he fortuitously discovers a gold en fortune while he is scrab bling for edible roots. Timon has been compared with Lear—and always unfavorably. In fact, Timon is to Lear what Leontes is to Othello—the echo of a feel ing. Moreover, the other char acters in the play offer no real contrast to Timon him self.
Gerald Freedman's direc tion seemed oddly flaccid. If the play is to mean anything it surely needs to be staged as a kind of medieval moral ity play — with Timon as a central character study sur rounded with the gross exag gerations of his flatterers. He is not much helped by the company.
The verse speaking was the worst I have heard in Central Park for some seasons.
Even from the third row it was occa sionally difficult to hear, and it was ungraceful to the ear and often jangled In its mean ing. Sheppard Strudwick, a fine contemporary actor, tried hard as Timon but the part went against him.
He was un able really to suggest the folly of misplaced idealism, or the rancor of misanthropy, and concentrated on a rather stiff brand of nobility. Actors like Mr. Strudwick are to be encouraged to try Shakes peare, but need to be care fully cast. Here is a man who might have made a fine Brutus or Cassius, but as Timon he seemed more of Central Park than of Athens. Strudwick, was perfectly at home in this Shakespearean world, and he screamed at life with a fierce and waspish abrasiveness that had a primitive savagery to it that lit up the stage on his every entry.
The only other character of note is Alcibiades, a sol dier friend of Timon who conquers Athens in revenge for Timon's treatment. Marco St. John played the role— and for this the director was equally to blame—as if he were a villain in a Victorian melodrama, lowering bale fully at the audience, and generally hamming his way through a role that needs re straint if it needs anything. Ming Cho Lee's setting, with its lofty pedestals and platforms was fun and use ful, and Theoni Aldredge's costumes offered ornateness with style.
Theater: Shakespeare Returns to Park. See the article in its original context from July 2,22 Buy Reprints.
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