The Baltimore Guide would highly recommend a trip to the Fell’s Point Corner Theatre to see Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus,” directed by Barry Feinstein, playing through June 1.
The play follows the death-bed confession of Antonio Salieri, an 18th-Century composer and contemporary of Wofgang Amadeus Mozart. On what he believes is the last night of his life, Salieri takes the audience back through his earlier life as director of the Italian opera in the court of Emperor Joseph II of Austria.
It was a time when Salieri came to know both Mozart the person and the unmatchable talent. A composer of more-than-modest abilities himself, Salieri manages to secure the fame for which he has lusted since his boyhood, but the light of Mozart’s genius exposes the emptiness and futility of mere fame, ruining Salieri.
Retired Foreign Services officer Jeff Murray portrays a Salieri who is sympathetic, charismatic and repulsive, all at the same time. We are drawn in by the sheer openness of his confession—his willingness to spill the ill thoughts and deeds that comprised his misspent life, for which he is not unrepentant. Seeing the story from his perspective, we can’t necessarily endorse his petty ambitions, but when they are foiled, we feel his hurt.
Murray’s Salieri manages to retain a snakeish charm that does not diminish even as he is humiliated—in his own eyes—to the fullest extent possible. “Amadeus” shows the events of the past in which Salieri interacted with and plotted against Mozart. Murray’s Salieri seamlessly moves back and forth from those events—in which he addresses his contemporaries on stage—to the present—in which he turns to the audience with a wry explanation or a knowing smirk.
The repulsiveness of Salieri: It’s not completely odious, because the audience may put it to good use as a cautionary item. Watching him enjoy and savor his signature drink—a disgusting mixture of cream cheese, granulated sugar and rum—we see an unhealthy man indulging with abandon in a filthy habit. However, his cries and tempertantrums, elicited by his perceived misfortunes, are as baby-like as they are pathetic. And it’s pretty hard to hate a baby, isn’t it?
Another standout character is John D’Amato’s Joseph II, emperor of Austria. D’Amato plays the emperor with an affability that fails to hide the character’s carelessness and detachment, at least when it comes to the lives of the musicians in his court.
“Like most men obsessed with being thought of as generous, Emperor Joseph was quintessentially stingy,” comments Salieri.
Holly Gibbs tenderly portrays Constanze Weber, Mozart’s suffering and loving wife. For all her husbands’ shortcomings—by the end of the play, he’s nearly as miserable as Salieri—she never loses her love for Mozart.
Rick Lyon-Vaiden’s Mozart is confident enough in his musical genious to make an ass of himself in public. Lyon-Vaiden captures Mozart’s buffoonery and, later, his despair. He just alludes to the composer’s genius and passion—and who knows if the actual composer outwardly displayed these qualities?
We see them most clearly through Salieri’s reaction:
“The light flickered in the room; my eyes clouded,” he says, hearing Mozart’s music for the first time.
Beyond the story (evidence suggests that Salieri’s antagonism toward Mozart exists only in fiction) and the acting, the characters’ choreographed action about the small stage is a pleasure to watch. We would guess that director Barry Feinstein deserves credit for this. “Amadeus” is not a musical, but the movement on stage and dialog delivery reminded us of one.
The Fell’s Point Corner Theatre is located at 251 S. Ann St. For more information and tickets, visit fpct.org.
by Erik Zygmont