Having attended a lot of really good plays in my lifetime, I understand that there is nothing as futile as trying to explain the brilliance of a good piece of theater to someone who was not in attendance. It is comparable to trying to explain an inside joke to someone who is not apart of it, knowing that the story will inevitably end in the phrase, “You had to have been there.” I think, of all art forms, theater is the hardest to describe, because it is an engrossing and all-encompassing sensory experience, all at once transportive and reflective, a commune between audience and actors that is somehow both private and shared.
Tonight, I saw Timon of Athens, a lesser known of the Bard’s works, at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre1. It was a rare and glorious theatrical experience. The production starred Ian McDiarmid, better known as Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars films to my fellow nerds. There were definitely a few moments that could have used a well placed “And now young Skywalker, you will die,” or a curse upon all gungans. But he refrained, and I got over it.
I would not call Timon of Athens a jewel in the Bard’s crown. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It was coauthored, unfinished, and never saw production in Shakespeare’s lifetime. It is still rarely performed, and about halfway through the second half, you start to understand why2. However, the production stood on its own, and I found myself pretty much engrossed throughout the entirety. Until that aforementioned rough patch in the second half.
The purpose of this post, however, is more to make a unique observation about my theatrical background; namely, how do I always end up going to Shakespeare plays where an old man takes his clothes off?
Weirdly enough, this has happened three times so far. Once in a production of King Lear3 an entirely separate production of Much Ado About Nothing4, and then tonight.
Tonight was by far the most revealing.
There I was, minding my own business at the end of act five, just starting to feel a little bit bad for old Timon and his impending demise, when suddenly fwoosh! Off goes Emperor Palpatine’s shirt.
At which point I begin to silently and frantically pray, Pants on, Palpatine old boy, pants on! Because it did not take an anatomy class for me to realize that I was sitting at such an angel of the theatre that if those pants went, I would be seeing all the way to Florida.
But then he stood there for a contemplative silence, long seconds echoing around the theater with their absolute stillness, and I dared to think for a moment, Phew. Dodged that bullet.
Then – fwoosh – no more pants. And Emperor Palpatine was naked5
And I get it. It’s art. You’re allowed to do that. And it’s anatomy. And nobody gasps or freaks out, because we are mature and sophisticated patrons of the arts. The very fact that we opted to spend our night watching Timon of Athens pretty much asserts that we are all artistic snobs who, even if we were shocked by nudity, would be too uppity to admit it.
But it will definitely be kind of a downer when I have to tell my future husband that he isn’t the first man I ever saw naked – that was King Lear.
- In unrelated news, before seeing the show, I had to buy a sweatshirt, because the Pier is freezing, and a $2 diet coke, because the Pier is overpriced.
- But we forgive you Bill, because Hamlet is awesome.
- Seriously, crazy Lear, keep your pants on.
- Hello strippers …. in a Shakespeare play…. weirdly enough, not the first Shakespeare play I’ve seen that featured strippers…maybe I should pick different plays to go to…..
- …is a phrase that has never been uttered before outside the darkest corners of Star Wars fanfiction.