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'Timon of Athens' is a Stunning Production

February 26, 2020

Simon Godwin makes his directorial debut at the Shakespeare Theatre with a stunning production of Timon of Athens. Godwin shows himself to be a creative and exciting director with this production. It is visually stunning and keeps you enthralled from beginning to end.

Now there is another reason you are enthralled from beginning to end and that is the incredible Kathryn Hunter in the role of Timon. Kathryn is not new to cross-gender casting as she was the first woman to play King Lear which she did in 1997. Godwin has described her as a ‘force of nature’ and after seeing her in this role you know why. She commands the stage. The only thing I can find small fault with is often when she is not toward the front of the stage you miss some of her words. She is speaking Shakespearian English so fast and there is a kind of rasp to her voice so some of the words are missed which is a shame because when she is stage center you realize you don’t want to miss a moment of her performance. Her physical performance is as captivating as her spoken word. 

Yonatan Gebeyehu (Photo by: Gary Goodstein) Yonatan Gebeyehu

Timon of Athens is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays and I would suggest you may want to familiarize yourself with it before going. It could heighten your appreciation of the production. Historians have suggested it was co- written with Thomas Middleton. The main plot of Timon is he is a generous benefactor to many who call themselves his friends. Upon losing his money and approaching them for help he is turned away and they are all unmasked as ingrate sycophants who willingly and happily supped at his table and boasted of being his friend when he was rich.

The subplot is made clear in this production when Timon loses his money and ends up supporting a civil insurrection. It is easy to see today’s world in this production. How money plays such an important role in trying to maintain the status quo for the rich and those born to the manor. How corrupt to their core many can be with an utter lack of scruples in their effort to maintain their lifestyles and power. The play forces you to think about the incredible economic inequality in the world today and the dramatic differences of those in the 1% from the rest of the world and the struggle that causes.

Godwin has taken the liberty of not only casting a woman as Timon but also to cast women in the roles of many of the other characters who were written as men. But through all the struggle of this play and the interactions between wealth and poverty the play ends on a high note which leaves you feeling there is some hope left for the world. As Godwin has said “He hopes in this production to activate a wilder satirical energy in the playing of it. There is a great deal of savage humor in the first half of the play which then helps make the tragic turns the play takes in the second act feel shocking yet also appropriate.” You will feel he has succeeded in this effort superbly. 

Kathryn Hunter (Photo by: Henry Grossman) Kathryn Hunter

In addition to Kathryn the rest of the cast is all wonderful. Some standouts are Yonatan Gebeyehu as the Poet, Arnie Burton as Apemantus, Zachary Fine as the Painter, and Kristen Misthopoulos as the Greek Singer. But they are all able to command the stage in turn and you will surprised at the staging as they are not always speaking from the stage. 

But what adds immeasurably to making this production so riveting are the sets, costumes, lighting and music. Costumes and Sets are by the incredibly talented Soutra Gilmour. The Lighting Designer is Donald Holder, music composer is Michael Bruce and sound design is by Christopher Shutt. 

This is a production you should see for many reasons. As I have said it is stunning but it is also a fine celebration of the talent of Simon Godwin the new Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Timon of Athens will be at the Michael R. Klein Theatre, formerly the Lansburgh, through March 22nd. 


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The King’s Speech – An Enjoyable Night at the Theatre

February 13, 2020

This production of The King’s Speech is definitely worth an evening in the theater. Many know the story or have learned it from watching the great movie of the same name. But in case you don’t know it a short synopsis is helpful before you go.

The play is written by David Seidler and this production is directed by Michael Wilson. It is about a difficult time in England. King George V dies and David (Jeff Parker) his older son is to become King. But David falls in love with a Baltimore socialite Wallis Simpson (Tiffany Scott) who is twice divorced and rather than give her up as the government demands if he is to become King he abdicates the throne leaving it to his younger brother Albert (known as Bertie) and played to perfection by Nick Westrate. England is about to enter the war and Bertie is shy and fragile with a stammer and seemingly not well equipped to lead the nation on the brink of war. 

The story is about how Bertie’s wife Elizabeth (Maggie Lacey) helps him to find a speech therapist to overcome his stammer, which has held him back all his life, as he is thrust onto the world stage after the abdication of his older brother. She finds an unconventional Harley Street speech therapist, Lionel Logue wonderfully and believably played by Michael Bakkensen who becomes not only his speech therapist but his friend. Their success or failure as therapist and patient and as unexpected friends, will seal their destiny, the destiny of England and perhaps the world, in this compelling true story. 

(Photo by: Courtesy Liz Lauren for National Theatre)

The play revolves around the interactions with the famous personages of the time in England including Winston Churchill (Kevin Gudahl) who brings strength to his performance and always commands the stage and the Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang (Noble Shropshire) who brings humor and a dose of reality as we follow the interactions between the Church of England and the monarchy at the time. We find ourselves cheering for Bertie as he finally speaks up and confronts the Archbishop. 

The sets are beautifully conceived by Scenic Designer Kevin Depinet with interesting and effective by Lighting Designer Howell Binkley. The costumes are beautifully imagined by David C. Woolard.

I question a little of the direction as when Bertie is having one of his arguments with Lionel and he is first talking to him from a box in the theater and then comes down into the audience and walks down the aisle back to the stage. There seems to be no benefit to the production for this to happen and my only thought was once they got him in the box maybe that was the only way to get Bertie back on the stage. But again that is a minor quibble. 

The entire cast is good but I found the play does drag a little in the first act. But then all the big action takes place in the second act and the pace picks up dramatically and you leave the theater glad you came to see this show. 

The King’s Speech will be at the National Theatre through February 16th. 


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Time to Stop Bernie Sanders is NOW

January 30, 2020

Now is the time to stop Bernie Sanders before he becomes the Democratic nominee and destroys the party’s chances of taking back the White House. Just as important he would hurt our chances of taking back the Senate. He is not a Democrat, has never been one, and if he becomes the nominee many Democrats on the ballot below him from school board to U.S. Senate will be running for the hills. Sanders’ initials represent what he is about, BS.

 

In states where it appears Democrats have a shot at flipping a Senate seat: Arizona, Georgia and Georgia Special Election (two seats in play), Maine, North Carolina, and Kansas he would be a stone around the candidates’ necks. The same is true for the majority of candidates who helped Democrats take back the House in 2018. Democratic primary voters around the nation must wake up and reject the BS Sanders is trying to feed them. In reality he is simply an old white man, lifelong politician with the huge ego that comes with that, self-described socialist, who sounds like a ‘carnival barker’ shouting and waving his hands in the air. He has a thirty year congressional record amounting to close to ZERO. His speeches bring to mind the words of Shakespeare, “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. From the time he ran as an independent against a progressive former Vermont governor, Democrat Madeleine Kunin in 1986, to his rants against the Democratic establishment he hasn’t changed. He apparently still believes women, the LGBT community, dreamers and African Americans are part of the establishment only out to derail him.

 

He recently embraced the endorsement of Joe Rogan, a sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist. His campaign’s national press secretary said about the endorsement, “Sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values. The truth is that by standing together in solidarity, we share the values of love and respect that will move us in the direction of a more humane, more equal world.” So he stands in solidarity with Rogan and thinks Rogan has values of love and respect; again Sanders BS. He sounds just like Trump talking about welcoming white supremacists and neo-Nazi endorsements to his campaign. Disgusting

 

Sanders’s only job in life has been as a politician. He cut a deal with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to win his first congressional election and in return voted against the Brady bill and background checks five times and against allowing people to sue gun manufacturers. He voted for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that resulted in the judicial system putting thousands of young black men in jail and he voted for the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) resolution. “The authorization granted the President the authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the September 11th attacks, or who harbored said persons or groups.” That resolution is still in effect and being used to send our troops over there today.

 

Today he shouts at rallies about a ‘revolution’ he wants to lead. Waiting for the revolution to come in the United States is a little like Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot”. When Barack Obama was elected he quickly found out simply saying ‘Hope and Change’ wasn’t enough to get things done. But the difference between Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders is people within his own Party with the power to actually do something liked, respected and supported Obama. They were willing to work with him to move us forward in many areas including; healthcare, LGBTQ rights, women’s pay equity and a host of others. As Hillary Clinton recently correctly said “nobody likes Sanders”.

 

Despite the BS Sanders is selling he has never been a leader in any movement whether it is women’s rights, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, disability rights or immigrant rights. People must understand shouting and waving your arms about and selling what was once called ‘snake oil’ isn’t being a leader. It may play to the crowd, and seems to be playing to young people, but in our system of government it doesn’t work to move a progressive agenda forward and for over thirty years in Congress Sanders record of accomplishing practically nothing is proof of that.

So I beseech Democrats who want to beat Trump, those wanting to move a progressive agenda forward, and Independents; please choose a candidate other than Sanders. If you are sick snake oil can be alluring and seem like a quick remedy; but real medicine which may be harder to swallow and take a little longer to work is always the better choice.

The changes we want will only happen if we reject the carnival barker and vote for a person willing to do the hard work to get things done. It means electing a person who understands that the government our founders set up, the constitution they wrote, requires an understanding of the word compromise. Something Sanders has shone he doesn’t. Compromise, without giving up our principles, is what has allowed us to move the progressive agenda many of us want forward even if it is a step at a time. Say a resounding NO to Bernie Sanders in the caucus and at the polls.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.


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