Perhaps the thing I miss most about reviewing is seeing a great production and not being able to let the cast and director know WHY I thought it was so great. That’s certainly the situation I’m in with SecondStory Repertory's production of “Amadeus”. Peter Shaffer’s play is, of course, not a “historical drama”, but a drama in which the characters happen to be historical figures. It doesn’t really matter whether Salieri was actually responsible for all the terrible things this play suggests that he did to Mozart. What matters is that within the drama we fully understand the terrible conflict between Salieri and God; his soul-rending fury at the injustice of being given great talent but not genius, and then watching this young man of such apparently insubstantial character simply transcribing for the world his gift of a divine music that would live forever. It doesn’t matter if Mozart in the real world did or didn’t experience his conflict with that external world and society in the way that this play portrays.
What we believe is that the Mozart of this play experienced this conflict in exactly this way, and that his world (within the play) is fully realized, complex and merciless. It’s a long play because it portrays a long process, full and complicated by years of experience for both of these men, but one of Corey McDaniel’s great achievements is to pace the production so there is never a moment that drags or seems over-extended. My interest in and engagement with the drama was totally focused from beginning to end.
Of course, the performances of the two leads were critical to the show’s success. What Gerald B. Browning brought to Salieri was absolute conviction, both in his portrayal of the character and in the character’s relationship with an uncaring God. I especially liked that in his “elder” scenes he showed such technical restraint, never overdoing the portrayal of age while still embodying the weight of experience in his years. I also really appreciated the subtlety of his Court persona, assuming all the personal gratification of his status and accolades while still knowing in his deepest truth that he is a failure. It is to both Browning and the director’s credit that the exact nature of his inner conflict is made so clear early on and informs every action he takes in the play.
Brandon Ryan was brilliant as Mozart, uncomfortably outrageous and supercilious in the beginning (as he needed to be) and almost unbearably sympathetic in his final suffering and torment. Ryan’s focus and vivacity, his energy and playfulness made clear that Mozart’s genius was all about the immeasurable joy and compulsion of making music from his life, from his passions and pleasures and despair. I have never seen this role performed more successfully in a production of this play. For me there was never a false moment or an irrelevant gesture.
I also enjoyed Brittany Cox as Constanze, a role that requires her to be on an entirely different plane of existence from Mozart and Salieri, while more connected with the tangible realities of life than either of them. Her scene when she is willing to give herself to Salieri and is then rejected by him was beautifully authentic, and her constancy with Mozart made her a much more substantial person than the play would suggest. I thought Robert Hinds as Joseph II was also remarkable for his comic triviality, while at the same time never letting anyone forget exactly who he was and what his position was. The rest of the ensemble was consistent and thoroughly effective in creating a theatrical world of distinct individuals.
The physical production was rich and elegant, especially enhanced by the beautiful costumes of Janessa Jayne Styck. The entire stage picture was one of wealth and privilege, the perfect contrast to the misery and deprivation Mozart and Constanze suffered. Of course, a show about music and musicians has an inherent dependence on competent sound design, and this production got the best out of every recorded note, from the slightest amusing melody to the profound “Requiem."
This is the first show that Corey McDaniel has directed as the new Artistic Director of Second Story Rep, and it is a most impressive calling card. He was fortunate to have an abundance of talent on stage, but his control and focus of that talent was what made the production powerful and engrossing, intriguing and moving. “Amadeus” was a brilliant, first-rate production and I feel very fortunate to have seen it.
PICTURED ABOVE: Gerald B. Browning
PHOTO BY: Tim Poitevin