Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Close-Up For Amadeus and Salieri

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The World's Stage Theater conjures the weight of a solidly enjoyable drama with its latest. In the intimate space of the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, a group of actors carefully bleed out the story of Amadeus. As written for the stage by Peter Shaffer some decades ago, it is the story of genius and jealousy as one man struggles against another from the shadows over the crime of genius.


As this is a small, intimate theater experience the budget is not huge. Will there be decent costuming? Absolutely. The costuming (and make-up) as coordinated Emily Pomplun is quite convincing. In the setting it’s absolutely beautiful in places. 


There is real talent and the cast and there's a real piano on the stage. We may not feel the immensity of the intensity of the drama resonating through the life of a musical genius, but the production as directed by Katie O’Donnell does a tremendous job of bringing forth the very real visceral emotional side of the story of this man's life and the lives of some of those he came into contact with.


The story is seen through the eyes of Mack Heath in the role of Salieri. He is playing a man who was celebrated in his time but forgotten in the march of history. He is an artist striving for genius but only achieving success. Heath is an interesting presence in the role. He's very articulate and is interfacing very well with the more sophisticated areas of the presentation. He has, however, something of a gruff, brutish stage presence that serves to amplify the characters lack of genius. He's capable of making all the right moves but there's something in the way he speaks his words that lets us know he's not quite there. There's a power to his tone even in whispers that feels very animalistic. It’s a memorable performance.


It can be remarkably difficult to do justice to the legend of this title character here. Jared McDaris strides about in the role with a playfulness that contrasts starkly against the character’s more somber moments. McDaris is at his best in amplifying the composer's passions as an artist. This may be all the role really needs as it is really the center of what the character is all about. That being said, there's always that strange sense of mystery surrounding any legendary artist that can be very, very difficult to bring to the stage. As absurd as it is to try to live up to anyone's vision of who Mozart was, McDaris does a really good job of bringing a very human and very passionate artist to the stage. This is particularly felt in relationship to McDaris’ interactions with Gretchen Mahkorn in the role of Amadeus’ wife Constanze. Mahkorn is very poised in the role, even when things seem to be falling apart. Even when the character is losing her mind. She does considerable justice to a seedy scene between her and Heath as well. 


The rest of the cast forms itself quite well around the center of the story. In particular we hear Hayley Cotton, Tawnie Thompson and Danielle Levings are remarkably well-modulated in the role of the Venticelli. They serve as a kind of chorus. They fill in for the general public and its interest in gossip and the lives of others. Cotton, Thompson and Levings are really fun. Shaffer gives them lines that are meant to largely be expository that sound like they might be spoken in a casual tone. Cotton, Thompson and Levings manage to feel exceedingly casual delivering bits of plot while also having distinct and interesting personalities that add considerably to the mood of the production. It's a lot of fun to watch them throughout the story.


Finally, it would be difficult to make it through a review of the show without mentioning Michael Keiley’s cleverly detached performance as Emperor Joseph II--a man with tremendous power and influence but without much  going for him besides. And he looks powerful in the single most intense costume in the whole production. 


The World's Stage's production of Amadeus runs through March 23rd at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. For ticket reservations, visit The World's Stage Online.

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