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Amadeus by Peter Schaffer – Los Angeles Theater Review (2010)

 

SHARP PLAY FALLS FLAT

 

picture - AmadeusTheater Review

by Tony Frankel 

published July 2, 2010 

 

Amadeus

now playing in Los Angeles (North Hollywood) at the Chandler Studio  

through July 25   

 

“Oh, music is easy; it’s marriage that’s hard,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart plaintively states to 1780s court composer, Antonio Salieri. The same could be said of the staging of Peter Shaffer’s brilliant opus, Amadeus, by August Viverito at The Chandler Studio Theatre. Shaffer has tinkered with his play since its 1979 London opening, and in this, his latest version, the juxtapositional relationship between Salieri and Mozart has a striking, well-defined clarity. It is reported with heavy heart that The Production Company’s latest effort falls short of the perfect marriage between script and ensemble. There are moments that work, but more tinkering is necessary for this well-intentioned marriage to be fit as a fiddle.

 

picture - AmadeusWe begin with 73 year-old invalid Salieri (Peter Swander) who speaks directly to the audience, desiring to convince us that he is responsible for the death of Mozart (Patrick Stafford). We join him back in the Vienna of Emperor Joseph II (David Robert May) where Salieri has achieved fame and notoriety. Devout Catholic Salieri has promised to be the instrument of God’s voice through music, but is confounded that God has seemingly chosen bratty, infantile Mozart as His vehicle. Through a series of flashbacks, we watch as a conflicted, tortured Salieri conspires to trounce Mozart’s career.

 

As Salieri, Mr. Swander has the difficult task of morphing from monologue to scene to flashback. He is a capable actor, no doubt, but he manifests little physical or vocal variation allowing the audience to distinguish a youthful Salieri from an elderly, infirm one. His character, a Machiavellian beast of a man, carries a plethora of emotions such as remorse, revenge, and envy; although Mr. Swander improves in Act II, his performance remains bewilderingly lacking in complexity.

 

On the other hand, his counterpart, Patrick Stafford as Mozart, triumphs brilliantly. This performance, along with his portrayal of Alan Strang in Equus last year, entrenches Mr. Stafford as the current actor-to-watch. The frustration we feel for Mozart’s situation is palpable; we empathize with the undisciplined, outspoken genius because Mr. Stafford plays him with such disciplined mastery.

 

picture - AmadeusDanielle Doyen as Constanze Weber handles the rhythms of Mozart’s wife - from playful mistress to scorned adult - admirably.

 

It is the supporting cast that offers the greatest consternation: Mr. Viverito has assigned three actors many roles, but there seems to be little that differentiates them, except accents that frustrate in their inaccuracy. David Robert May hits all the wrong notes as the Emporer; he comes off like an unenthused store clerk rather than the larger-than-life buffoon that this role seems to require. The supporting cast gestures and speaks in the manner of audio-animatronics: wooden, stiff and often void of any internalized emotion. Was this at the direction of Mr. Viverito?

 

The sets and lights (also by Mr. Viverito) prove what can be done in a small space with cunning and imagination. The same applies to Bob Blackburn’s sound design. It is the costumes, though, which may provide insight into the stylistic confusion in this production: Shon LeBlanc’s outfits seem to have been plucked from a giant warehouse of costumes and we are left with a display of 1950’s Italian Mafia members, Hollywood nightclub pop stars, and Mozart in a Nehru jacket! Very cool stuff, but it is unclear what the designer is going for.

 

Mr. Viverito has proven time and again that he is a master at reviving scaled-down productions in this intimate (33+ seats) space (his interpretation of the same author’s Equus was this reviewer’s favorite theatre outing of 2009). So be not dissuaded from anything the multi-talented Mr. Viverito produces in the future. You may even wish to visit Vienna via North Hollywood, as this company offers some very bright players. Just know that the orchestra is not completely up to the symphony at hand.

 

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

 

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