Seven Years Of What? Breaking Mirrors in Timon of Athens
In Shakespeare's play, our hero, Timon of Athens, has been abandoned by those he thought were his friends, so what he does is to throw one last party, where he tells them all to go to hell, trashes the table in a clatter of silver plates and cutlery, and finishes his tirade by snatching up a piece of dinnerware from the floor and hurling it with all his might at the enormous mirror on the wall, which then splinters under the impact with a crash to send audiences diving under their chairs for protection from the inevitable shower of jagged shards.
A mid-sized theater with a mid-sized budget might accomplish this spectacular effect with taped noises and rear-projections—or even that old standby, a scrim—but Chicago Shakespeare is a world-class operation with funding to match. According to properties master Chelsea Meyers, that's a genuine mirror—composed of several panels joined together to make the entire surface visible from all corners of the room—that bites the dust in every performance.
"The mirror is held into its frame with magnets and coated on both sides with anti-graffiti film to prevent outward breakage," Meyers assures me, "My department did many tests to get the angles just right. The fabulous part is that when the mirror breaks, you see his reflection fragmented into a hundred pieces!"
So it's not a slight-of-hand trick—Ian McDiarmid actually lets fly at the mirror with a projectile chosen, says Meyers, for its weight, which must be sufficient to do the required damage without piercing the safety film. But what if he misses his target?
"All of the mirror panels are breakable, so Ian can hit one of the surrounding panels and we get the same effect. Each piece has a replacement custom-cut and fitted perfectly to the frame. Making it all safe and secure was particularly tricky, but it seemed the only way to ensure that it was foolproof."
Superstitions about breaking mirrors aside, doesn't destroying all this glassware every night get kind of—well, expensive? "Realism was our artistic vision for this first part of Timon," Meyers maintains, "Besides, I think the theater experience is more 'real' for the audience when the objects are the real thing. I love how frightening the mirror-smash is, how dangerous it feels, and the way to create that fear was through realistic violence and real glass. It's an expensive moment, yes, but worth every penny!"
Timon of Athens plays at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre through June 10.
Mary Shen Barnidge
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