Prenzie Players is beginning its 14th season — and its quest to complete all of the works in Shakespeare's canon — with "Timon of Athens" this weekend.
Having done most of the "marquee" Bard shows already, the Quad-Cities company has begun dipping into the titles that are rarely performed, with a goal of completing "Richard III" by the end of its 20th year.
"Timon," believed to be a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton in the early 17th century, is a piece that most companies don't tackle, director Jake Walker said.
"It's got a rough exterior and it's rarely done for a reason," said Walker, directing his fourth Prenzie production. "But it's one of those where, if you believe in the power of the show, it can be good. There's a compelling story in it that can be powerful, it just takes a little assistance to get there."
The title character distributes his wealth to his friends, but when he is in financial need they refuse to come to his aid, which Timon sees as a betrayal.
"It's really an interesting arc the character goes through — riches to rags, and then sort of back to riches," said Prenzie veteran actor Matt Moody, who has his first lead role in "Timon."
"He was dropped like a hot rock, and he never recovers from that, even though he finds enough treasure to retake his old life, possibly and more, he's shattered by it and never recovers to become this rich man," Moody added.
"Timon" echoed the economic turmoil in Greece at the time and still holds true today with the recent Greek financial crisis.
"We wind up inadvertently linking up to a real world event," Moody said.
"Timon" has a military subplot as well, Walker and Moody said.
"At the heart of it there is a good story to tell," Walker said. "You just have to dig at it a little bit."
The costumes and settings try to be ambiguous, both said, and keep in the Prenzie tradition of left-field visuals while keeping true to the text.
"We do it in some ways that will frankly be surprising," Moody said. "If there's anything that's typical of us it's that we will bend over backwards to make the text accessible. We absolutely do not abandon that in this show. We will tie it to your daily life, things you read in the paper. There's something for you to identify with."
Timon is a "tragic hero," Walker said, that adds to the complexity.
"In some ways it's the simplicity that adds to the difficulty of performing it. It seems so black and white, but that's not interesting to play," Walker said. "You look for shades of gray, and there are shades of gray through most of it."
Walker said he welcomed the opportunity to take on the little-known "Timon."
"I've always had an attraction to the obscure shows, the ones that very few other people do," he said. "We do this show, and we make no apologies for what you're going to see."
"Timon," Walker said, was a favorite of "Moby Dick" author Herman Melville. Moody said the play was popular during the Depression, at the same time as F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby," and even inspired a Duke Ellington score that will be used by Prenzie.
"There are plenty of Gatsby-like elements in this show, although it's kind of a reverse Gatsby," Moody said.