There is a midrash in the Talmud (Gittin 56a) about two men, Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza, whose similar names set in motion a series of epically tragic events. A friend of Kamtza’s accidentally invites Bar-Kamtza to a feast. It turns out Bar-Kamtza is an enemy of the host, who throws him out. Humiliated, Bar-Kamtza vows revenge on his host and the rabbis who refuse to intervene. He informs on his fellow Jews to the Romans, who destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and exile the Jews.
Echoes of that nightmarish “for want of a nail” scenario are heard and seen (there’s even a banquet) in The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s intense, streamlined version of Timon of Athens, one of the Bard’s most enigmatic (and least performed) plays. Timon is a generous and naive lord who goes broke after showering largesse on his craven and self-serving fellow Athenians. Spurned by his unforgiving debtors and dubious friends, Timon retreats to a forest cave, steeped in bitterness and consumed by his hatred of Athens’ “large-handed robbers”:
I am Misanthropos, and hate mankind.
Director Brian B. Crowe’s version of the play is beautifully staged and lit and expertly acted by a cast that includes Geoffrey Owens, who played Elvin on The Cosby Show. The Cabaret meets Sweeney Todd concept strikingly captures the fetid air of decadence and rot that surrounds the play.
The show continues through July 24 at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the campus of Drew University in Madison. For information, visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.