Copyright 2003 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon
‘Amadeus’ an intellectual, well-acted play
It's the story of a man who succeeds magnificently in his villainy, only to destroy himself with guilt
Chances are that Antonio Salieri, a court composer in imperial Austria, did not contrive the destruction of his musically superior rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
But what if he did: A successful mediocrity who erased a genius to settle a grudge against God?
That’s the thesis of “Amadeus,” Peter Shaffer’s ingenious if wordy drama that opened at Pentacle Theatre on Friday night. It makes for a fascinating intellectual (if fictional) drama, the story of a man who succeeds magnificently in his villainy, only to destroy himself with guilt.
Directed by Larry Roach with an eye to fast pacing and visual flair, with a luscious period set by Tony Zandol, this “Amadeus” succeeds on its strength of acting, with a beautifully shaded performance by Randy Bowser as the conniving Salieri.
To make this 2 ½ hours of intellect and ideas succeed, you need a villain who still is quite human, and on that basis, Bowser keeps the fascination flowing until Mozart’s final minutes of life, when Salieri slips over the line into the banality of evil.
The play is told in flashback, as the senile, delusional 73-year-old Salieri leaves his wheelchair and morphs back into a 31-year-old of 1781, alternately acting out the story and narrating it, with the aid of his “little winds,” robed and masked characters who gossip and inform.
Salieri dominates as he relates his meeting with the “obscene child” Mozart (William Lundeen), a foul-mouthed, juvenile twit who is nonetheless pure genius. Salieri proceeds to destroy his career and life, all while pretending to be a friend.
Lundeen, in a variety of goofy wigs and outrageous outfits, gradually wins our sympathy but remains an intriguing mix of coarseness and innocence, as does his wife, Constanze (Brittany Bilyeu), who has her own contradictions.
Working with a small cast of seven, most doubling as the “little winds,” Roach has mounted a lively drama of ideas, a fantasy that makes the abstract come alive in spite of the sheer weight of words and the limited action.
The cast includes Tim Smith, Ken Hermens, Jeff Baer and Joey Johnson.
Ron Cowan can be reached at (503) 399-6728.