note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Caroline Burlingham Ellis
This review first appeared in The Wayland (MA) Town Crier
This is the year that everyone is celebrating Mozart's 250th birthday, and the contribution from Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theatre is a highly polished production of Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus."
How the Vokes Players manage to create whole worlds on their tiny jewel-box stage is a source of continual amazement. In the current instance, director Kirsten Gould has rallied an impressive cast and crew to take audiences back in time to the court of Austrian Emperor Joseph II.
The play is about a popular 18th Century composer called Salieri who is the only person to recognize the inspired genius of Mozart -- Amadeus (beloved of God). Salieri is mad with jealousy and resentment because, despite his own efforts to be a Goody Two Shoes in the eyes of God, it is the immature libertine Mozart who clearly has been anointed to deliver the music of the spheres to mortals.
Salieri makes it his life's work to block God's beloved in every possible way. Aided by Mozart's own mistakes and infantile behavior, Salieri drives the genius into poverty, despair and early death.
Now, it is certainly possible that all this is exactly what happened. But, as Evelyn Waugh would say, it doesn't matter if a story is about something that really happened if it is not plausible. Yes, the jealousy of Salieri (Jim Barton) is believable, as is the ultimate desperation of Mozart (Jeff Mahoney). And Michelle Mount as Mozart's wife Constanze plays all the notes from airhead to nurturer, conveying the emotion of a woman in unusual circumstances.
It's the circumstances themselves that are hard to credit -- so many people expending so much energy on quashing a former child prodigy. Why would artistic jealousy lead Salieri to blasphemy and, in effect, to murder? Why would people other than Salieri, who do not think Mozart's music is especially great anyway, conspire to destroy him? Perhaps "Amadeus" would be better as an opera, where all the emotions may be over the top, and no one cares if the plot makes sense.
Many wiser heads have lauded the complicated psychology and elegant language of "Amadeus," and in any case, the plot is not the fault of Vokes. Despite exhausting stretches of cranked-up emotion, the current production does a fine job with a difficult script.
The costumes alone, designed by Kathy Booth, are breathtaking. David Atwood's sets effectively recreate everything from the halls of nobility to a miserable hovel. Selections of Mozart's music swell and fill the theater with great beauty (sound design by Robert Zawistowski). D Schweppe's lighting is perfection, smoothly carrying viewers from drawing room to nightmarish dream to beer hall.
Among the actors, Barton gives a passionate portrayal of Salieri. Mahoney becomes the embodiment of the eternal four-year-old dominated by a stage father. David Berti creates an amiable and approachable emperor, fond of Mozart but puzzled by his music and easily swayed by malevolent advisers. John Small and Bill Stambaugh are Salieri's Tweedledum and Tweedledee spies. Michael Lague as Count Von Strack is upright and principled but benighted like his friend Van Sweiten (Rich Schieferdecker). Robert Zawistowski is the mean-spirited Orisini-Rosenberg, who controls most of the music at court.
It is one of the more endearing aspects of Vokes that the members support one another's shows with such a generous spirit. For example, Melissa Sine, who is frequently the lead in Vokes productions, gamely plays Salieri's pupil Katharina Cavalleri, a role in which the actor is completely charming but silent. It is instructive to think of her and Mary Rutkowski (Teresa Salieri), David Gould (Ghost), Jim Curley (Bono), Peri Choteau (Cook) and Evan Bernstein (Valet) coming to frequent rehearsals, struggling with elaborate wigs and makeup, squeezing into complicated costumes, entering and exiting and saying ... nothing. That is true love. And without love, community theater cannot survive.
The entire costume crew deserves a special mention: Carol Antos (chief), Jo Allen, Pat Kane, Karen Dunkers, Nanci Shipley, Sue Ryan, Helen Martin, Gladys Foremen and Emma Koukol. Lynn Dinger produced the show, and Kurt Lanza was stage manager. "Amadeus" runs through March 18. For further information, call (508) 358-4034.