Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Amadeus"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


by Peter Shaffer
directed by Kirsten Gould

Salieri … Jim Barton
Mozart … Jeff Mahoney
Constanze … Michelle Mount
Emperor Joseph II … David Berti
Venticelli #1 … John Small
Venticelli #2 … Bill Stambaugh
Count Von Strack … Michael Lague
Orsini-Rosenberg … Robert Zawistowski
Teresa Salieri … Mary Rutkowski
Van Sweiten … Rich Schieferdecker
Ghost … David Gould
Kappl; Bono … Jim Curley
Katharina Cavalleri … Melissa Sine
Cook … Peri Chouteau
Valet … Evan Bernstein

AMADEUS is Peter Shaffer’s third play dealing with an older man (representing Reason) confronted by a Wild Child of Nature: in THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN, the agnostic Pizzaro, leader of the conquistadors, clashes with the young Inca ruler Atahuallpa who believes he is descended from the Sun God and thus immortal. In EQUUS, Apollonian psychiatrist Martin Dysart takes on Dionysian Alan Strang who blinded six horses in a frenzy; in exposing the boy’s demons, Dysart comes face-to-face with his own. AMADEUS spins one of opera’s most famous legends: that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) was poisoned by rival composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825). Told as a flashback by the aged Salieri on the night he attempts suicide, AMADEUS is not so much about Salieri’s battle with Mozart but with the God who fashioned him: as a youth, Salieri bartered with his Maker, offering goodness in exchange for fame; later, as a court favorite of Emperor Joseph II, Salieri hears the music of the newly-arrived Mozart and realizes that as a composer he (Salieri) lacks only one thing: genius. Upon learning that the wunderkind is a spoiled, scatological brat, Salieri bites the hand of God --- he, the chaste, the pure, can never rise above mediocrity while sublime music flows from the obscene Mozart --- and sets about destroying His mouthpiece by blocking Mozart’s advancement at court, starving him out and driving him to madness and death while wearing the mask of Friend. Salieri’s comeuppance is to have fame heaped upon him for the next thirty years then be consigned to obscurity while Mozart’s music --- dismissed while he was alive --- is posthumously acclaimed; Salieri can only immortalize himself by going down in history as Mozart’s assassin --- ironically, he proves a mediocrity to the end.

The above may sound gripping, but I have always found AMADEUS to be windy and overblown with layering of Mozart’s music to boost it into the Masterpiece category but the Vokes Players’ intimate production proves that the smaller the playing space the more concentrated and involving AMADEUS becomes and director Kirsten Gould keeps things crisp and cool, especially in her group-tableaus so that Mozart’s heavenly inserts are a natural extension to the impassioned declaiming. David Atwood’s setting is simple but elegant (and all the courtlier for it) and Kathy Booth’s well-researched costumes and wigs have been tailored to each member of the ensemble; the evening is a wonderful montage of 18th century faces in all their shapes and expressions, particularly those who have little or no lines to speak. Among the supporting players, most memorable are the dithery Emperor Joseph II of David Berti (one of the best “listening” actors, around) and the lemon-and-pumpkin contrast of Michael Lague’s Von Strack and Robert Zawistowski’s Orsini-Rosenberg. (Melissa Sine, in a mute cameo, glows exquisitely.)

James Barton (Salieri) and Jeff Mahoney (Mozart) are an astonishing team. Mr. Barton is a self-editing performer --- nothing he says or does is flamboyant or excessive --- his is not a larger-than-life presence but neither is Salieri’s; when Salieri falls as angels do, Mr. Barton does not switch from chamber music to grand opera but adds only those ornamentations necessary to evoke this particular soul in torment: the flames that lick at him are blue and cold. A good Salieri takes his cue from his Mozart and Mr. Barton is blessed to be paired with Mr. Mahoney whose hyper mannerisms have been caught by Ms. Gould and properly channeled unlike his recent Chuck Baxter (PROMISES, PROMISES) which, frankly, drove me up the wall. On paper, Mr. Shaffer’s Mozart is a chain of vocal shocks; Mr. Mahoney, however, forges a tragicomic portrait of the Artist in all his mercurial moods and does it, breathtakingly, with an air improvisational. If the Messrs. Barton and Mahoney are sparring in the heavens, Michelle Mount’s Constanze, part chippy, part earth-mother, is no less engrossing --- her animal cries at Mozart’s death are heart-rending. The ever-charming Vokes interior, over a century old, frames the action lovingly --- had orange girls appeared at intermission, hawking their wares, they would have been the dot at the end of the sentence.

"Amadeus" (2-18 March)
Route 20, WAYLAND, MA
1 (508) 358-4034

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide