BWW Review: AMADEUS at Conejo Players Theatre
The grand rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his erstwhile mentor Antonio Salieri is mainly apocryphal, generated for dramatic effect by playwright Peter Shaffer in his 1979 play, "Amadeus," but the idea was, nevertheless, a brilliant one. Conejo Players Theatre has put on an opulent, emotionally charged production of Shaffer's poetically dramatic story, which was famously adapted for the Oscar-winning 1984 film starring F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce.
It's hard to know who to root for in this play: the hugely ambitious but mediocre composer Salieri or the brilliant, misunderstood Mozart. Neither is able to achieve their ambitions during their lifetimes, but each has positive as well as negative personality traits that make us jockey back and forth between rooting for Salieri to achieve his vengeance and Mozart getting the recognition he deserves during his lifetime for his genius.
If you see this show, and I highly urge you to do so, you will see two of the most magnificent performances of the year. Nick Bemrose, who was most recently cast in two disappointing productions at Conejo Players ("Psycho Beach Party" and "The Graduate"), has finally hit his stride with a remarkable performance as Mozart. When we first see him, Mozart is a giggly, scatological imp, chasing and tickling his coquettish fiancée Constanze (the delightful Timorah Brown) and generally acting like an uncouth, immature brat. But Bemrose's performance is skillfully layered. When he focuses on his music, Bemrose's Mozart becomes another person: the gifted savant who is so far ahead of his contemporaries, including Salieri, that he is tortured by his inability to reach anyone emotionally with his music. This is especially evident in the reaction by the dignified but musically juvenile Emperor Joseph II of Vienna (the excellent Jim Didderich), who shrugs and tells Mozart, "There are simply too many notes." When Act II rolls around, and Mozart starts to suffer physically from the mysterious illness that would kill him, Bemrose's performance becomes agonizingly poignant. You still hear his childish giggle, but it is submerged beneath the physical pain and desperate realization that he will die before finishing his final "Requiem."
Bemrose's performance is sufficient on its own to make "Amadeus" worthwhile, but the show clearly belongs to the amazing Alan Waserman as Salieri, the composer who spent his life chasing the musical ability that came to Mozart naturally. "Let me be your conduit!" he implores God. "Why bestow your divine genius on Mozart, who is neither good nor chaste?" Salieri's jealousy results in him plotting vengeance on Mozart. He becomes obsessed, part Shakespeare's Iago and part Chief Inspector Dreyfus from "The Pink Panther," and sabotages Mozart's advancement at every juncture through his position as Italian Kapellmeister (court composer).
Waserman effectively conveys that Salieri is the only person able to appreciate Mozart's genius, and is tortured that this "obscene child" is called "distinguished by those who cannot distinguish." Yet he is torn between his jealousy for not being granted the divine glory of Mozart's talent and his appreciation for Mozart's ability. Watching Waserman act is like watching a master painter. Even when he is in repose, your eyes are drawn to him. It is simply a shattering, heart-wrenching, virtuoso performance.
R. Shane Bingham and Timothy Reese utilize split-second comic timing as the two prissy Venticelli, the show's Greek chorus. Accolades go to director Deidre Parmenter, costume designer Penny Krevenas, and set designer Rick Steinberg for the sumptuous look of the show, while sound designers Seth Hackett and Julie Alice Auxier provide appropriate excerpts from Mozart's works where needed.
"Amadeus" plays through May 28 at the Conejo Players Theatre. For tickets, visit www.conejoplayers.org
Article courtesy The Acorn Newspapers (www.theacornonline.com)
Photo ID: L-R - R. Shane Bingham, Alan Waserman, & Timothy Reese (photo by Mike McCauley)