I don’t believe it. Salieri. What does he cry? Salieri. We won’t believe it! Salieri! I know who started the tale. What a story! What a scandal! And the only way to discover the truth is to attend the tale of Amadeus at the Fells Point Corner Theatre. Directed by Barry Feinstein, this Tony Award-winning play is the finale piece of the 2013/2014 season. Going out with a bang, this dramatic scandal of one man’s jealousy is a scintillating nightmare drawn to fruition upon the stage. Underscored by Mozart, the production is haunting and times delivers chills.
The classic atmosphere of the late 18th Century is developed in all its radiant glory, compliments of Set Designer Bush Greenbeck. An extravagant, elegant set with elevated balconies sprawls over the stage; dual fan-swept half-staircases lead off into shape-fitted archways, the epitome of the era. The set becomes of a point of inspiration for the show as it progresses; the higher left balcony reserved for the Emperor both when he is giving address and when he attends the opera, while the planked overhang to the right serves as the squalid hovel for Mozart near the end of his days.
Greenbeck’s design works in unifying tandem with Lighting Designer Charles Danforth III and his unique approach to highlighting mediocrity. Danforth puts a burning white follow spot on Salieri whenever he addresses the audience; keeping him in sharp focus as the hellacious torment of his confessions pour forth. The flushes of pink and red lighting that sweep the stage whenever Salieri addresses God are deliver a strong emotional impact.
The show’s aesthetic is rounded out by Costume Designer Helenmary Ball. Proper wigs, fabulously accentuated waist coats; the epitome of high style at court is displayed in her designs. The rich velvety black outfit that adorns Salieri accompanied by aristocratic gold accents suits his austere personality. The Emperor is given even more accoutrements by way of sparkling high fashion to distinguish his place in the social hierarchy. Ball’s flamboyant and garish patterned outfit for Mozart is most fitting for his obnoxious personality.
Director Barry Feinstein creates the ever present watchful eye of metaphysical society and God through his use of the Venticello quartet. Named as Salieri’s servants, though appearing occasionally as silent representations of other characters in the case of Kara Turner who plays his protégé and Dawn Douglas who serves briefly as his wife, these four ensemble figures are always on the stage. Feinstein often leaves them seated on benches in the high back on the stage, creating the illusion of the eyes of God watching over Salieri’s every move. Having these omnipresent presences infuses the religious symbolism into this play of jealousy and mediocrity.
The pacing was well-kept for the most part throughout the production. The scene changes were crisp and the lighting cues effectively transitioned from one moment to the next. It was often the performances of the minor characters that lacked enthusiasm. Baron Van Swieten, Count Rosenberg, and the Emperor of Austria all existed in the dull absences of Salieri’s soliloquies and narration.
Popping right off the stage in all her giddy joviality, Constanze (Holly Gibbs) is an exceptionally giggly match for the young obscene composer Mozart. Gibbs brings a refreshing vibrancy to the performance with her shrill squeaking giggles that accompany her first few appearances on the stage. Not to preclude her character from experiencing depth and change, Gibbs also brings a harrowing solemnity and doubt to her performance when encountering a treacherous situation. Balancing the flirtatious nature of her character’s more chaste existence becomes a games of snakes and ladders as she climbs to one height and quickly swivels down to another. Gibbs’ chemistry sizzles with Mozart (Rick Lyon-Vaiden) and their relationship, despite the perilous plight as the play approaches its climax, is simply divine.
Lyon-Vaiden as Mozart embodies madness and Godliness in a perfect combination that keeps the audience in rapt fascination with his portrayal. His immature nature transcends the character and defies description; a snug fit for this performance. Lyon-Vaiden portrays an ecstatic mania within him whenever his character begins to speak about composing. It consumes his body and radiates out through his voice and limbs, his entire presence shifting to something that glows with orgasmic bliss. Watching the devolution of his character into true madness as he composes the Requiem is both harrowing and chilling; the childlike innocence torn asunder and shredded by a sickness of the mind and body enclosing upon him all at once.
Salieri (Jeff Murray) invites the audience along for the torturous ride of confessions and sin, his words delivered with sharp intention, catching on the ear of everyone listening. Murray gives a tremendously dynamic portrayal, starting as the withered old man who can hardly stand on his own let alone plot with Satan’s will against divinity incarnate. His peaks of jealousy, his pangs of guilty; every emotion exudes forth from him in a heightened sense of existence, as if he were trying to truly reach the spirits of beyond, making Salieri’s tale his own personal nightmare. Addressing the audience with feverish rapture in moments of emotional climax, Murray ensures that every element of the tale falls into place precisely as it should. A remarkable portrayal of this terribly complex character.
You will only learn the story for yourself if you go and see Amadeus at Fells Point Corner Theatre. Will you too let the infamy of Salieri die away with Mozart? Or will you find pity in your soul for a mediocre creature twisted by jealousy and revere him alongside of history’s greatest composer?
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, with one intermission.
Amadeus plays through June 1, 2014 at the Fells Point Corner Theatre— 251 South Ann Street in historic Fells Point in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 276-7837, or purchase them online.