Yesterday I heard a part of a dialogue on NPR, in regards to the present reopening of theaters in addition to different ticketed occasions within the wake of Covid. (I want we have been within the wake of Covid; I am talking hopefully.) Though most of this dialogue was associated to the methods persons are being ripped off by scalpers, this system host started by posing a special query to the radio viewers: what was the final reside efficiency you noticed earlier than Covid shut us all down?
It is fascinating how straightforward it’s to reply a query like that. It is like — on a extra or at the very least in another way tragic scale — the query of the place you have been once you heard President Kennedy had been shot. For those who have been 5 or over, you bear in mind. (I used to be 5, and I bear in mind.) You bear in mind what you have been doing earlier than a very sudden factor descended and instantaneously modified your world in a manner you didn’t like. Fairly seemingly you have been doing one thing you loved, however that type of enjoyment was going to depart for some time. (Sure, in November 1963, this was true even for kindergartners, as a result of we lived in households which contained adults who understood issues higher than we did.) However that is too grim! I did not imply to go there. I simply wish to say that I do bear in mind the final reside efficiency I noticed earlier than Covid hit, as do the folks with whom I attended it, and all of us appeared again on it with a type of appreciation that we had taken the difficulty to go to it, since we weren’t going to have the ability to see anything prefer it for a really very long time. In fact, this being a Shakespeare-ish weblog, it is not going to shock readers to know that the efficiency was a manufacturing of a Shakespeare play.
The work was Timon of Athens, a bizarre and melancholy play caught someplace between the genres of tragedy and satire, like a number of others Shakespeare wrote within the first decade of the seventeenth century (e.g., Troilus and Cressida). It was directed by Simon Godwin of the Shakespeare Theatre of Washington, D.C., the place I grew up (within the D.C. space, not contained in the theater) and which I used to be visiting. Regardless of this theater’s annoying behavior of spelling “theater” with its “e” on the tip as if we weren’t People (Chicago Shakespeare Theater would not do this, by the best way), I’ve by no means seen a play carried out by the group that wasn’t made spectacular by their appearing. As a young person whose mother held season tickets, I used to be fortunate sufficient to see, not as soon as however many instances, luminaries such because the magnificent comedian actor Floyd King (an unforgettable Don Armado), Franchelle Dorn (hilarious as Mistress Web page in Merry Wives), and Edward Gero (in so many roles, however most just lately because the tortured ailing monarch Henry IV within the second a part of that play).
However this time, in March of 2020 — actually proper earlier than all of it shut down — my mates and I have been watching, within the lead position of this lesser-known Shakespeare play, a British import, Kathryn Hunter of the Royal Shakespeare Firm. She was the primary cause I might needed to go. Ever since I noticed, on movie, her extraordinary rendition of Puck in Julie Taymor’s 2014 model of A Midsummer Evening’s Dream on the Theatre for a New Viewers (oh, that remaining “e”), I had wished to see her once more, in one thing! As Puck, the diminutive Hunter, although already in her 60s, exhibited the flexibleness and gymnastic expertise of an Olympic gymnast. She carried out in a Charlie Chaplinish “Little Tramp” kind outfit, and her voice, unusual and gravelly, added to her boyish androgyny, as she crouched like a frog and scuttled like a crab throughout the stage, or allowed herself to be lowered head down from the rafters via her increasing elastic pants. (That Julie Taymor!) Nonetheless, I would not have guessed the following Shakespeare position I might see her in would even be a male one. But so it was.
Puck, like The Tempest‘s Ariel, is commonly performed by ladies. As spirits, each appear one way or the other genderless. Timon, the savage, misogynistic, and really human hero of Timon of Athens, is totally different, which, I assume, is why Simon Godwin (if it was he; Hunter first starred as Timon with the RSC) merely made the character feminine — a rich girl of historical Athens, fairly than a lord, nonetheless traditionally unrealistic that selection could have been. (It actually is not the one traditionally bizarre factor in regards to the play, as is common in Shakespeare. For instance, Timon, an Athenian who lives centuries earlier than Christ, spouts some terminology correct to the Christian faith, in references to church “canons” and “cherubim.”) Basically I am a traditionalist who’s skeptical in regards to the up to date craze for ladies taking part in male Shakespeare roles, however specifically instances I often neglect such distinctions instantly when the appearing is sweet, and . . . this was Kathryn Hunter. Spectacularly, she rode the curler coaster from the primary three acts of the play, the place the spendthrift Timon feasts his mates on credit score, to the ultimate two acts, whereby Timon, after being rebuffed when he visits those self same mates to beg loans, retires to the wilderness as a misanthrope, to curse thankless mankind. Hunter was clad in a gold robe and headdress for the primary three acts, serving her mates in a gold-draped eating room on plates and platters of gold, which, when confronted with the proof of their ingratitude, she throws at them (in one in every of my favourite scenes in Shakespeare). This tiny Timon went berserk! And her throwing arm was magnificent. However within the remaining acts, crouching half-wild in rags to ship her nice maledictions in opposition to mankind, Hunter outdid herself, preaching a savage indictment of cash and people who lie, cheat, steal, and kill to own it. “Gold” is a “yellow slave” that may “knit and break religions,” “place thieves and provides them title”; it is “the frequent whore of mankind.” Delivering these strains, Hunter, mud-besmirched and crouching, simian-like, near the earth, appeared a demonic model of the Puck she’d as soon as performed — or maybe a harbinger of Caliban, whom I might like to see her enact someday.
For its excellence, her efficiency would have burned itself into my mind irrespective of once I’d seen it. However there was one thing notably memorable in regards to the timing, with the play opening in Washington just a few weeks earlier than the approaching of Covid, which in fact reduce the run quick, and within the 12 months of the U.S. presidential election, which so bitterly divided and continues to divide our nation. “The center of humanity thou by no means knewest, however the extremity of each ends,” Timon is advised. In his particular person, he demonstrates the failure to search out Aristotle’s reasonable imply of human conduct, selecting extravagance after which misanthropy, by no means reaching easy generosity. Within the midst of our extremism and id politics, in our world of victims and perpetrators, it was worthwhile to enter the unhappy season with a reminiscence of this illustration of human folly. Shakespeare’s deluded protagonist first thinks everyone seems to be noble, after which, when he will get disenchanted, concludes persons are all monsters. He by no means finds the center, the place Jesse Jackson used to name “frequent floor.” Humor, humility, acceptance of human imperfection, and the power to hear — Timon has none of it, although his play incorporates no lack of characters to level out what’s lacking. Within the early months of 2020, I am glad I used to be there to listen to it.