Amadeus – Be Still Mozart
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
I went to see Amadeus at Fells Point Corner Theatre on Friday night, March 9th. Right until five minutes until curtain, I was the only person in the theater. There ended up being, not counting the director, four audience members in attendance that night. Do you know what performing for four people is like? Do you want to? Well, then, try this: go to your refrigerator and take out a gallon of milk. Open the top and pour it out onto the floor. Now lift that empty milk jug to your lips and talk into it for three hours. Really be vulnerable with it. Get down with it. Tell it your hopes, your dreams, your fears. Talk your heart out into that empty, rapidly souring void. At the end of three hours, open your front door into the chilly night air and heave the jug as far as you can. Slam the door. Go and get into your bed with all of your clothes on and stare at the ceiling. And, that, that feeling right in that moment, is what it’s like to perform for four fucking people. So I have a special message for all of those in our community who say all the time how they just luuuuuuv theater and are constantly begging people to come and see them perform but never go to support anyone else: fuck you. If you sat on your ass playing Candy Godddamned Crush while these people were twenty minutes away (it’s Baltimore, everything is twenty minutes away) screaming into the milk jug, then, fuck you. And, also, thank you. Thank you for giving me the singular experience of a queen commissioning a command performance. Because this was, indeed, a command performance in every sense of those words. Peter Shaffer is one of my favorite playwrights and Amadeus is a masterpiece. Told from the point of view of Antonio Salieri (Jeff Murray), the most prominent composer of the late seventeen and early eighteen hundreds, (and I mean really told from his view, he never stops talking), Salieri comes to us an old, broken man. His life has been one consumed by a paranoid notion that a vengeful, capricious God chose him as His own instrument to bring the music of heaven into the world. His story is one of the bitterness of the mediocre, of reaching for something he could never quite grasp and of his jealous-lover-like intensity for owning God for himself (Italians). The fire to the gas is the appearance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Rick Lyon-Vaiden). See, while Salieri was a good-enough composer (especially for rich people who, in their hearts, then as in now, honestly don’t give a shit about classical music but pretend they do), Mozart was the goddamned fucking lightening. Salieri realizes this immediately and sets in like a big old venomous spider, thwarting Mozart at every turn. Not that this is particularly hard to do. Amadeus presents Mozart as a silly little Peter Pan in a man’s body, a weirdly stunted boy who never got over his prodigy status. Salieri makes sure that this little lad never catches a break, humiliating his wife, Constanze Weber (Holly Gibbs) when she comes to beg for help, undermining him with Joseph II, Emperor of Austria (John D’Amato), and generally playing the puppeteer pulling Pinocchio’s strings. I think that Shaffer’s genius is this: he presents Salieri as a blighted man, cursed with the sure knowledge that he is extremely overrated. But, even with that certainty, he is blind. He overrates himself, his influence in Mozart’s life – he sees them as locked together in an epic battle of the gods, but Mozart doesn’t seem to get it. Sure, Salieri is a giant dick who definitely sets the stage for Mozart’s downfall. But Shaffer seems to hint that the whole thing was destiny, that Mozart would have lived fast and burned out early anyway, dying alone of crotch-rot at the age of 35. That it was written in the stars, that Salieri didn’t have one slim chance in hell of being remembered and Mozart of being forgotten. Barry Feinstein catches on to this too, and gives us a show that is restrained, resisting the urge to turn it into a melodramatic operatic piece of nonsense and instead showing us the humans inside of these dusty old names. Also, I must say, Feinstein knows exactly how to most effectively employ an ensemble. Though seated constantly on the stage, he never loses their energy or forgets that they’re there, employing them as characters in Salieri’s flashbacks. The acting is, for the most part, absolutely sublime. Jeff Murray is jaw-dropping here as the evil Salieri. He draws his vowels out while staring at us with the calm, fevered, leveled surety that only comes with the truly insane. He schemes at the corners of the stage, in the shadows, in the dark and always you see his mind working, working. It’s the part of a lifetime and Murray matches it completely. Well. done. While I found Murray’s the more impressive performance, Rick Lyon-Vaiden’s was the more effective. His Mozart is superb and from the moment he bursts onto the stage sporting an erection from his lady’s potential defecation, he sells us on the cocky, swanky, wild-eyed child version of Mozart. I fell for his creepy gasping, giggling, nervous laugh. And he broke my heart in the last scenes where it becomes clear that the genius is poison and the Requiem is only for himself. Honestly, he gave me chills. Holly Gibbs, doing an intriguing Constanze Weber, Mozart’s poor little wife, starts the show as a gorgeous, vibrant cupcake of a confection (THAT DRESS THO) made of bubbles, but, as we go along, we see that she’s steel under the icing. There’s a hell of story told in Gibb’s expressive eyes and she’s particularly wonderful in an uncomfortable seduction scenario with Salieri where she gets to pull some strings of her own. Standing out in the supporting cast was John D’Amado’s Emperor of Austria playing Joseph II as charmingly jovial, empty-voiced and empty-headed, like royalty tends to be. Design-wise, I dug the set, a multilevel creation designed by Bush Greebeck. It quite credibly captures the era with pretty stairs and railings (the back painting looked a little unfinished). Costumes by Helenmary Ball and Mary Bova were spleeeendiiiiid, lavish and luxuriant with wigs, even, which is great, everything is great with funny headgear. And after seeing so many overlit productions lately, the dark and moody lights by Charles Danforth III were a welcome change (although at least one spotlight is A’HUMMIN’, son – it sounded like an jet engine and upstaged the actors a few times). The only thing missing, and it’s a big thing, was the sound design. Where the hell was the sound design? This is a play about music. The little CD clips of tinny Magic Flute. did. not. cut. it. I’m not sure if Paul Greenbeck ran out of time or what but it was a huge missed opportunity.
BOTTOM LINE: Amadeus is brittle and elegant. Captivatingly creepy, sexy, fascinating. A real decadently de-lish dish. It could stand to crescendo agogo and pomp up the volume, but that’ll come. There is a glittery shimmer, a magic even, here that will not be denied. Play on, goddamn it. Play on.
Running at Fells Point Corner Theatre June 1st
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