Randy Bowser (from left) plays Salieri, Brittany Bilyeu plays Constanze and William Lundeen plays Mozart at a rehearsal for the drama “Amadeus” at Pentacle Theatre.
A hot court composer is tortured by Mozart’s talent in the Pentacle drama.
May 25, 2003
He’s a man with a pact with God to become God’s voice through music, and when God lets him down, Antonio Salieri is not amused.
In Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus,” opening Friday at Pentacle Theatre in Salem, an angry composer takes revenge on God by victimizing the brilliant but uncouth rival, young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Best known through the 1984 movie version that won eight Academy Awards, Shaffer’s play is a dark rumination on genius and jealousy, described by the author as a fantasy based on reality.
“As far as historical accuracy goes, it’s very unfair to Salieri,” said Randy Bowser, who plays Salieri.
“It’s not a documentary. The real Salieri has very little to do with the play.”
Instead, it’s a fascinating — if wordy — meditation on the urge to excellence and fame that many of us experience and the mediocrity to which some are nonetheless condemned.
“Amadeus” is set in 1781 Vienna, where the young, unruly Mozart — possibly the greatest musical talent of all time — is breaking onto the scene. Alas, only his chief rival, Salieri, the reigning composer at the court, recognizes this genius.
In the end, Salieri, who confides in the audience as he narrates the story, became so obsessed with Mozart’s artistry that he babbled incoherently on his death bed that he had murdered Mozart some 30 years earlier.
“That’s the subtitle,” Bowser said: “Did I do it?”
At the same time, Bowser is trying to keep Salieri human.
“He does some rotten things, but he explains it so well to the audience,” Bowser said.
“Even though we don’t relate to him, it makes human sense the way he did it.”
Officially, Mozart died of malnutrition, his work reviled by the cultural powers of the time but later venerated by future generations.
“Politically, he didn’t play the game very well,” Bowser said of Mozart. “He was put down by the establishment.”
“I think it tells a fantastic story,” director Larry Roach said. “It’s very well-written.
“I also had a concept of how I wanted to do it.”
Playing Mozart is Dallas native William Lundeen.
“I’ve worked around a number of actors,” said Roach. “I can’t tell you when I’ve been around any actor that works harder than Billy Lundeen.
“People are going to see a whole different Mozart than they did with Tom Hulce in the movie.”
Roach is staging this as a nonstop show (with an intermission) running two hours, with the 15 characters portrayed by seven actors. Only Bowser plays one character, and he is on stage all but two minutes of the play.
“I can really say even if you’ve seen this play, you haven’t seen this production,” Roach said.
In Shaffer’s approach, the play opens in 1823, just two years before Salieri’s death, as he looks back at the events surrounding Mozart’s arrival in Vienna.
“Amadeus” isn’t as dark as some of Shaffer’s other plays, such as “Equus,” but it is serious.
“It has some comic moments in it, but it is a drama,” Roach said.
“‘Amadeus’ is a story of pathological envy, revenge and how the universe ultimately sets things right,” he said.
“We have a tendency to call plays entertaining when they’re comedies,” Bowser said.
“You’d be very hard-pressed to find a play that entertains your mind such as this.”
Although the staging is simple and the play necessarily lacks the visual scope of the movie, there are lavish costumes by Susan Schoaps, and the music of Salieri and Mozart provides a musical background.
Bowser is doing the sound, with a set by Tony Zandol that features a Baroque proscenium.
Mozart’s wife Constanze, is played by McNary High School student Brittany Bilyeau.
Rounding out the cast are Tim Smith as the Austrian emperor Joseph II, Jeff Baer as Count Von Stack, Ken Hermens as Count Orsini-Rosenberg and Joey Johnson as Baron Gottfried van Swieten.