BWW REVIEW: 'AMADEUS' BORDERS ON DIVINE AT NEW REP
Written by Peter Shaffer; directed by Jim Petosa; scenic design, Cristina Todesco; costume design, Frances Nelson McSherry; lighting design, Mary Ellen Stebbins; sound design, David Remedios; props design, Alexander Grover; wig design, Rachel Padula Shufelt; production stage manager, Leslie Sears; assistant stage manager, Kevin Schlagle
Cast in alphabetical order:
Esme Allen, Katherina Cavalieri; Emily Culver, Teresa Salieri; McCaela Donovan, Constanze Weber; Benjamin Evett, Antonio Salieri; Paul D. Farwell, Johann Kilian von Strack; Russell Garrett, Joseph II, Emperor of Austria; John Geoffrion, Salieri's Cook; Nathaniel Gundy, Salieri's Valet; Michael Kaye, TheVenticelli; Paula Langton, The Venticelli; Gabriel Rodriguez, Ensemble; Evan Sanderson, Baron van Swieten; Mark Soucy, Giuseppe Bonno; Tim Spears, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Jeffries Thaiss, Count Orsini-Rosenberg
Performances and Tickets:
Now through May 26, New Repertory Theatre, Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA; tickets range from $28-$58 and are available by calling 617-923-8487 or online at www.newrep.org.
Italian-born classical composer Antonio Salieri may be the poster boy for mediocrity when compared to his brilliant Austrian contemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. However, there's absolutely nothing mediocre about the New Repertory Theatre's sumptuous production of Amadeus, Peter Shaffer's eloquent and grand Tony Award-winning play that continues at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown through May 26.
A feast for the eyes and ears, the New Rep's Amadeus is a delicious, bittersweet confection that captures both the divine and the decadent aspects of genius and obsession. The divine is expressed through the weaving together of playwright Shaffer's elegant prose with Mozart's glorious music, while the decadent comes from the depiction of Salieri as an envious creative also-ran tortured by his reluctant admiration for the crude but gifted Mozart. Tormented by what he perceives to be God's cruelty in bestowing "a creature" such as Mozart with the heavenly gifts he so feverishly desires to possess himself, Salieri sinks to ruthless deception (and perhaps even murder?) in order to destroy Mozart's life and career.
The action is set in and around the court of Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The design team of Cristina Todesco (sets), Frances Nelson McSherry (costumes) and Mary Ellen Stebbins (lighting) beautifully render the extravagances and absurdities of the era, creating an opulent and iridescent white, black and gilt-edged playground through which frilly and foppish members of the Habsburg court romp. This highly stylized world perfectly suits the exaggerated liberties that Shaffer takes with history, turning friendly competition into a venomous rivalry rooted in the most bitter of ironies.
The cast is without exception brilliant, guided by the skilled and obviously well-researched hand of director Jim Petosa. Posture, mannerisms, inflections, and attitude are all of a piece, each character fully fleshed and heightening the play's biting satire and farcical style. From the Emperor Joseph's (Russell Garrett) jovially dismissive, "Well, there it is," to the grumbling valet Johann Kilian von Strack's (Paul D. Farwell) sputtering utterances, Amadeus is full of life and rich in detail. Even the commedia-inspired "Venticelli" (Michael Kaye and Paula Langton) suggest menace and manipulation as they relish in circulating vicious rumors from behind their inscrutable masks.
The play's power is ignited, however, by the tensions between the three characters at its core: the willful and unruly prodigy Mozart, his adoring and more pragmatic wife Constanze, and Salieri, a passionate, devout, and tragic figure endowed with the singular ability to appreciate the beauty of Mozart's music but not with the genius to create such divinity himself.
As Salieri, Ben Evett gives an exquisite performance, alternately narrating and enacting the calculated plot he undertakes to destroy his self-anointed adversary. When his success inevitably leads to his own descent into madness, he colors his last-ditch effort to become infamous with a sly awareness of the hand he has had in bringing about his own twisted demise.
Evett also manages to make his Salieri at once despicable and pitiable. When he is enraptured by Mozart's music, he is exalted, illuminated, as if hearing the voice of God in every note. Tears flow uncontrollably, yet he simultaneously whispers his admiration and screams his protests. "There's no justice," he wails. Denied what he perceives to be God's love, Evett is the living embodiment of Salieri's anguish.
Tim Spears as Amadeus is Evett's polar opposite. Impetuous, irreverent, egotistical and crude, Spears bounces and flounces across the stage, a whirling dervish of unbridled talent wanting desperately to be approved of and loved. Yet Spears also finds his character's compulsion to compose and his vulnerabilities, too. His Amadeus is more impulsive innocent than self-absorbed buffoon, a nervous, giggling whiz kid whose social skills have been stunted by the weight of early genius. Uncomfortable and unappreciated by everyone but Salieri and Constanze, he alternately pouts and postures, rudely demeaning those who would casually dismiss him.
As Constanze, the one "constant" in her husband's life, McCaela Donovan eschews the typical flighty interpretation and imbues her character with real substance. Sexy, flirtatious, fun-loving and a bit headstrong in the early years of her courtship with Mozart, she later reveals a loyalty and love that enable her to stand firmly beside her husband against Salieri's salacious attempts to extort improper favors from her. It is through Donovan's eyes that the audience sees the good in Amadeus. Her strength and warmth melt away Amadeus's insecurities and Salieri's bitter evil resolve.
In the end, Amadeus is a divine paradox. Even its title turns out to be a haunting irony. Although the story is unquestionably Salieri's, the immortality is ultimately Mozart's. Long live the memory of both in this unforgettable New Rep production.
PHOTOS BY ANDREW BRILLIANT/BRILLIANT PICTURES: Ben Evett as Antonio Salieri; Paul D. Farwell as Johann Kilian von Strack, Tim Spears as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Paula Langton and Michael Kaye as TheVenticelli; the Cast of Amadeus in the court of Emperor Joseph II of Austria; Tim Spears, Russell Garrett as Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, and Ben Evett