FOOLS FALL - Notes from the Director  

It has often been stated by fancy men of letters that Timon of Athens is the runt in the Bard's canon of plays, but I've always been quite keen on it, for I admire an underdog. Granted, the poor old text has crooked teeth and a wandering eye and yet, there it sits, squeak-snarling from forth the Folio page; never even tossed the bone of a proper "re-write".   It barks out its story, and simply will not agree to be caged or shelved. When colleagues roll their eyes and claim the play is 'terminal', I lift my muzzle and howl to the moon that it possesses a Lear-like majesty, for even that king had to scratch at bothersome fleas.

There are two worlds at work in this stubborn text. Timon splits emotionally from wealth and bankruptcy, isolates in a cave by the sea, and tries to keep the tide of visitors away. In the orginal play, unfinished though it may have been, this rich Athenian simply dies there by the sea in his isolation, and leaves behind nothing more than an epitaph. Perhaps that is what happens to us all anyhow, but since this literary haunting began, I see the mangy hero in every 'bag person' I encounter, thinking "From whence came she? No doubt a mighty fall."

In the 1970's I was awe-struck by a dynamic production directed by Jerry Turner at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and then in the 1980's I was commissioned to adapt the play for an all female company, Women In Theatre based in Seattle, Washington - who wanted to make a big point about their lack of Classical casting, while training a modern eye onto the play itself. It's been a quarter century for me since that experiment, and I have long wished to return to the misanthropic tale - to delve into the text and unlock some of its mystery. In 2003, I did just that in a production at Mills College in Oakland, and in 2008 we revisited the text again with a stellar cast of 17 in a staged reading in Portland, Oregon.

Stepping back into both of Timon's worlds (lush and unlucky), I am at once reminded of the riveting news coverage of the WTO Riots in Seattle a decade ago, and even of today's reports of corruption and greed in the governments and businesses worldwide. Then toss in that it's a time of war again - that damnable trade - and Timon peers from her trash heap and pleads for us to get our acts together.

As a director working to develop the piece, I'm endeavoring to bring to theatrical life the Poet's description of Lady Fortune, as well as the character called Fool (usually a minor and whimsical scene in which Fool is brought in by Apemantus for a bill-collecting.) What if these two slim characters could say or do more? Would they help us understand more deeply the Great Fool Fortune (Timon) and the Philosopher Cynic (Apemantus)? Quite possibly. Proceeding from that premise, and with the aid of puppet & mask work, we have created a sub-plot which simmers under the surface. It is an adapters' conceit, granted, but it has informed the subtext for us in rehearsal and performance.

Great literature has many layers. "What's under the dog?", the beastly cynic inquires. This Timon has a full journey and a transformative death. This Lady does us the favor of scratching our social itch. This beauty growls.

- Randall Stuart, 2008