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Timon of Athens and Tessa Gratton

Last night, I drove up to New York to meet Tessa Gratton to go see a production of Shakespeare's Timon of Athens at the Public Theatre in the East Village. Tessa is even more beautiful in person than in her photos, and that's saying something. She's also every bit as smart and funny as I expected, and then some. Don't you just love it when you meet online friends in real life and they turn out to be awesome? I know I do (and I also know that's usually the case, at least when it comes to online writer friends).

The play starred Richard Thomas (who will forever be John Boy Walton to me) as Timon (rhymes with Simon, and is not - as I had thought - pronounced like the name of the meerkat in The Lion King), a man who starts the play as a spendthrift, essentially showering money and possessions on his so-called friends, only to find himself in dire straights - and with false friends who do not care to assist him. He ends the play as a misanthrope, living alone and impoverished in a cave and completely disillusioned in mankind, until his servant, Flavius, arrives and wants to serve him even though Flavius believes Timon cannot pay him. Timon has, however, unearthed a cache of gold, which is given to Flavius as a reward for being a single good man (echoes of the story of Lot, perhaps?) while Athens is left to fall to an encroaching army. Timon kills himself (offstage).

The play itself was . . . odd. Really and truly. No wonder the play is only seldom performed. According to proponents of linguistics using recently developed computer programs that analyze usage and punctuation, it appears that as much as 40% of the play may have been written by Thomas Middleton, in a collaboration with Shakespeare. The play first appeared in print in the First Folio, produced after Shakespeare's death. It's possible that only an incomplete script existed, or that it was an experimental sort of play. It's also possible that the play as performed during Shakespeare's life was better fleshed out than what was reduced to the page. It's one of the many Shakespeare-related mysteries that we simply have to accept and move on.

The setting for the play - the Ansbacher Theater at the Public - was marvelous, however. Tess and I were in the fifth row, stage right - essentially in extremely plush stadium seating looking down on the floor, where the play was staged with minimal scenery and props. The two side-stage sections were a mere eight rows deep, and the center stage section, while considerably wider, was only six rows deep, which ensures that no-one is particularly far from the stage at any point in time.

While neither Tessa nor I knew this play going in, we know our Shakespeare well enough to know filthy puns when we hear them, which meant that we were two of, say, four people laughing aloud at the start of the play. I'm sure the people around us wondered what we were on about as we laughed at this dialogue between the Poet and the Painter:

Upon the heels of my presentment, sir.
Let's see your piece.

'Tis a good piece.

So 'tis: this comes off well and excellent.


Admirable: how this grace
Speaks his own standing! what a mental power
This eye shoots forth! how big imagination
Moves in this lip! to the dumbness of the gesture
One might interpret.

On the one hand, they were talking about a painting; on the other, they were talking about penises and ejaculation. (Those of us who knew about the other hand were decidedly in the minority.)

All things considered, it's not a play I liked well enough to seek out again, not that I'd avoid it, necessarily. The characters aren't developed quite well enough, in my opinion, to find one to really like, or at least to feel sorry for.

Oh. And if you're wondering why I used my "Inconceivable!" icon for this post, it's because we saw Wallace Shawn (aka "Vizzini") in the lobby before the play. We assume he went up to the third floor to see a play called Compulsion, since he didn't appear to be in the audience with us.

P.S. You are not allowed to take photos inside The Public Theatre, as I discovered immediately after taking the photo of Tess and me. I apologized, of course, but didn't delete it.

P.P.S. The sandwiches and red wine (rioja) in the lobby were delectable. I'm just saying.

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2011 10:28 pm (UTC)
I apologized, of course, but didn't delete it.

You're such a rebel. :)
Feb. 25th, 2011 10:44 pm (UTC)
That's just how I roll. ;)
Feb. 25th, 2011 10:41 pm (UTC)
"...what a mental power this eye shoots forth!" *snort*

Also ZOMGBBQ11!! you saw Vizzini!!!!! :o
Feb. 25th, 2011 10:45 pm (UTC)
We snorted with laughter about the shooting eye as well. The people near us thought we were mental, I'm sure.
Feb. 25th, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC)
I love the filthy puns, but I also LOVE LOVE LOVE this picture of the two of you. I’m so glad you got to hang out.
Feb. 26th, 2011 01:18 am (UTC)
Me too - it was very nice to meet Tess in person. She is adorable, as you already know from your retreat.
Feb. 26th, 2011 01:20 am (UTC)
Fun! Weird play notwithstanding. I've never seen or read Timon and now I probably won't. Although I remember reading and enjoying Middleton in college.

Awesome beauteous pic of the two of you! Yay for non-deletion.
Feb. 26th, 2011 01:31 am (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words.

Some day soonish, we need a photo of you the two of us together - you and me.
Feb. 26th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC)
We totally need to do that. How far away are you from Cincy, anyways?
Feb. 26th, 2011 10:05 pm (UTC)
It's nearly 10 hours - yikes!
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 26th, 2011 06:12 pm (UTC)
Many people don't expect Shakespeare (or Austen for that matter) to ever make ribald jokes, since they are "high literature", and yet they are there if you know where to look.
Feb. 26th, 2011 01:26 pm (UTC)
I clearly need to see more Shakespeare with you!

Mike and I saw The Comedy of Errors last night at the Folger Shakespeare Library Theater. Wow and wow. Great setting and hilariously done. Totally fab masks were created for the actors to play with the themes of identity and doubleness. I don't know if you saw the Post review I shared on FB, but I can send it your way if you're interested.

And I found out the Folger is doing Cyrano next! Squee! Love that play, but I've never seen it live.
Feb. 26th, 2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
Ooh - I've never seen Cyrano live either. I may have to look into tickets (and see if either of my girls want to join me - M just read it for school, and S read it 2 years ago).

I saw a live production of The Comedy of Errors a few years back during an outdoor theatre production - it was entertaining, although it's still not one of my fave Shakespeare plays. And YES - you and I must make a date to see some Shakespeare together!!
Feb. 26th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
This post reminded me of why I was underwhelmed by Timon (who I did know how to pronounce, heaven only knows why). But it sounds like a wonderful performance space.

I'm not surprised most of the audience didn't understand the wordplay. Methinks too many of us have grown out of a delight in double entendres. Although not at my house, where my husband's current favorite joke from the last PHC Joke Show is: "I wrote a single entendre but it wasn't funny at all, so I put two of them together...if you know what I mean."
Feb. 26th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
HA! LOVE your husband's fave joke! Form meets function is one of my favorite of all "tropes", by the by, if you don't already know it, so that is right up my alley. Tell your husband this philosophy joke for me:

René Descartes walks into a bar. He sits down and orders a pint, then drinks it straight down.

The bartender comes up and says, "Another beer, Monsieur Descartes?"

Descartes says, "I think not." And disappears.

Part of the issue with Shakespearean double entendres is that some audience members think Shakespeare is highbrow, so they don't look for them at all. The other part is that many of them use terms and phrases that folks aren't quite familiar with or that have fallen out of common usage. So unless you know some Shakespeare already, you don't necessarily get them unless the actors act them out for you (as when Jude Law humped Polonius's leg during the "fishmonger" bit in Hamlet) - and these actors didn't suit their physical actions to the double meanings at all.
Feb. 27th, 2011 07:01 am (UTC)
Re Gratton, yes beautiful and awesome.

My co-actor in our Shakespearean spoof troupe the Lord Mayor's Company is reading a book called "Filthy Shakespeare" that basically translates EVERY LINE as dirty. I think it's really messing with his head.
Feb. 27th, 2011 01:56 pm (UTC)
I own Filthy Shakespeare, and it's a really interesting book - not that it flags all the double entendres and dirty lines, but it does point many out, so that you then know the joke when you hear it (even in other plays). There were lots of jokes to do with cuckolding that sail right over modern audiences' heads, for instance. And words like "O" often meant vagina, etc.

While Filthy Shakespeare employs lots of plain language to make its point, the woman who wrote it has serious academic credentials, which is one of the things that makes it so interesting (and gives it additional credibility, in my opinion).
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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