Amadeus by Peter Schaffer – Los Angeles Theater Review (2010)
SHARP PLAY FALLS FLAT
by Tony Frankel
published July 2, 2010
now playing in Los Angeles (North Hollywood) at the Chandler
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
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.
We 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.
Danielle 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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