In 1979, playwright Peter Shaffer created an intriguing piece of historical fiction. Recognizing that the most forceful and compelling of human foibles often emerge clearly in situations of artistic rivalry, Shaffer chose for his leading characters Antonio Salieri, the court composer to Austria's Emperor Joseph II, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salieri's contemporary and fellow at court, one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time.
The historical record indicates that the relationship between Mozart and Salieri was primarily cordial, that any contention happened early on and had political rather than personal origins. Nevertheless, the competitive atmosphere of Joseph's court and the endless games of strategy needed to win important appointments - not to mention Mozart's untimely death - lend themselves ideally for a far darker look at the men's association and for a glimpse at the darker side of human nature as well.
Enter the now aged Antonio Salieri (played by 2nd Story's Artistic Director, Ed Shea). Salieri seeks understanding, not forgiveness, from his audience as he spins his tale of envy, deceit, genius and despair. Did Salieri murder Mozart? This question hovers over the production as Salieri's revisits the ghosts of the past on stage.
Shea gives a masterful performance as Salieri. His lengthy monologues are presented effortlessly with nary a hesitation, full of personality and charm, and underscored by an ever-present intensity and focus. Shea's Salieri proves a welcoming and engaging storyteller; his mannerisms convey the complexities of the composer's inner conflict, from gnawing remorse to unfettered ambition, light-hearted banter to blasphemous rebellion.
No matter his frame of mind, Salieri immediately recognizes the genius of Mozart's work, and Shea fully conveys both the euphoria and the resentment that well up in the court composer with each of his rival's triumphs. Shea captures the role's dark humor and laces Salieri's ever-thwarted attempts to live on - in either fame or infamy - with equal measures of pity and contempt.
Andrew Iacovelli creates three versions of Mozart. The youthful, profane Mozart's vulgarity is often offensive in the extreme, laced with truly distasteful, crude humor. In his immaturity, the audience views the great Amadeus through Salieri's frustrated observations, but this brassy "acting out" also ties into the exposition and points to Mozart's complicated relationship with his overbearing father. As Salieri embarks on his plan to destroy the infantile "creature," Iacovelli gradually transitions to a more grounded presentation, still irreverent and saucy, but demonstrating much more substance.
The final, fraught scene between Salieri and Mozart brings Iacovelli's third interpretation: Mozart ill in mind and body, broken down in spirit though not talent, and reverting to childhood when faced with the bleak realities of his situation. Mozart's death is modestly staged and all the more powerful for this simplicity.
Ara Boghigian, Jeff Church, and James Lucey play the Venticelli, Salieri's gossipy "eyes and ears" in Vienna. The men deliver rapid-fire, often overlapping dialogue with skill and precision, serving as a chorus to keep the play's momentum moving smoothly along. The Venticelli deliver their reports from a lighted box overlooking stage, an all-seeing vantage point enhanced by the opera glasses the men keep constantly at hand. The men also stylistically represent each age, wearing the colorful flamboyance of Joseph II's court during Salieri's flashbacks and somber black suits to represent the fashions and trends at the end of the composer's lifetime.
Parents, please note: Amadeus contains adult language and themes.
2nd Story Theatre presents Amadeus through February 17, 2013. A talk-back session will be held immediately following the February 3 performance. Tickets are available by phone (401) 247-4200, through e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting the box office at 28 Market Street, Warren, RI. See the company's website www.2ndstorytheatre.com for more information. Regular tickets are $25; audience members under age 21 pay $20.
PHOTO CREDIT Richard W. Dionne, Jr.