than a pain in the neck: Harrison as Amadeus.
Peter Shaffer, directed by Eric Hill
Berkshire Theatre Festival, through July 8
year in a review of the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s production
of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, directed by Scott Schwartz,
I wrote, “It would have been exciting to see what vigorous
direction Eric Hill might have brought to this piece, which
is clearly not ideal stomping ground for Schwartz.” The answer
is that the BTF’s former flirtation with Shaffer has become
romance under Hill’s sure-footed direction.
As in that earlier play, Shaffer is again trying to find a
modern means of locating the tragic forces in a world where
the Gods have become the gods and man’s epic struggles with
them have been supplanted by less- cathartic battles with
computer freezes and heating bills. It has been argued that
tragedy, in the classic sense, is dead in the modern world.
Irony, absurdity, leaders like George Bush and bad productions
of Shakespeare would seem to have dealt the mortal blows.
Fortunately though, writers like Arthur Miller and Shaffer
have kept the tragic sense alive even when, in the case of
Amadeus, it is couched in a melodrama.
As in Equus, Shaffer (like Miller) is concerned with
the plight of rather-more- common beings than the giants of
Sophocles. Amadeus takes its title from one of its
principle characters, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but its true
protagonist is Antonio Salieri, musical advisor to Frederick
II, emperor of Austria. Until Mozart bursts into the Viennese
court, it is Salieri who is the star composer despite the
fact that his music is at the ochre end of mediocre. However,
whatever talent he lacks as a composer, Shaffer’s Salieri
is cursed with a superb musical ear that makes him both recognize
and resent Mozart’s genius. Worsening Salieri’s situation
is Mozart’s childish and frequently coarse behavior. To be
in the company of an artist who is so gifted and uncouth,
Salieri takes personally as an insult from God.
The compelling action of the play is Salieri’s attempt to
redress God by destroying Mozart. But Salieri is not a simple
villain; he has a conscience, and therein lies the tragedy—if
the production has a strong Salieri. It is little surprise
that the BTF strikes no false notes with Jonathan Epstein
in that role. Epstein rises to the challenge of playing the
villainous and self-tormented character just as the audience
rises in appreciation of this consummate actors’ gifts.
What does surprise is that Epstein is not thrilling in the
role. While far better than F. Murray Abraham in the egregious,
watered-down film version, Epstein doesn’t plumb the depths
nor find the majesty that David Suchet did in the 2000 Broadway
revival. Where Suchet commanded the stage and subtly inhabited
Salieri, Epstein holds the stage in a performance that seems
a bit studied at times.
What also surprises in Eric Hill’s customary vital direction
is a merciful shift in how Mozart is presented. With Randy
Harrison in the role, we are finally given a Mozart who, despite
his vulgarities, is likeable, charming and believable. While
the childish laugh (that became a trademark of all the Mozarts
I have seen portrayed in Amadeus) is still there, it
is silly without becoming caricaturishly annoying. Even though
his Mozart speaks most of the same words as actors before
him, Harrison makes us both hear and feel them. And with a
more dimensional Mozart, Salieri’s action has far more consequence.
Here he not only destroys a musical genius, but also a flesh-and-blood
man as opposed to a braying jackass begging to be put out
of our misery.
From Tara Franklin’s comely Constanze Weber to Walter Hudson’s
obtuse Emperor to Bob Jaffe’s angular Count, the supporting
cast is uniformly strong and, courtesy of Olivera Gajic’s
sumptuous costumes, variedly colorful. Karl Eigsti’s appropriately
heavy set is lit perhaps a bit too brightly by Matthew E.
Alderson and makes too frequent use of fully opening and closing
Melissa James Gibson, directed by Martha Banta
Adirondack Theatre Festival, through July 1
The most telling moment in the world premiere of Melissa James
Gibson’s All Is Not occurs when wealthy Audrey and
Arthur (Rebecca Nelson and Christopher McCann) stand and natter
in front of the locked white exterior door and two windows
of their home during a thunderstorm. In a pique over middle-aged
Arthur’s confessed infidelity—after Audrey has confessed her
long-ago infidelity—Audrey suddenly galumphs off the porch,
takes two steps down the stairs, turns right and stands exactly
under an overhanging nozzle and gets wet.
It’s a showy moment that highlights precisely what’s wrong
with All Is Not; this is less a play than a series
of verbal and theatrical stunts rendered in random acts of
cleverness that semaphore their importance. Why make it wet
on stage only in that precise spot when the rest of the four
set pieces are done in sparse outlines, the rain long ago
established by the sound and lights and the trickles of water
down the two story drop across upstage? Because watching the
actress getting wet is at least interesting for a moment.
That moment passes, and then you just have a wet actress.
The four locales (outside an upscale home, in an upscale bathroom,
at a Manhattan dry cleaner, during an upscale middle-schooler’s
school presentation) and four stories being told (lost keys,
lost dress, lost hair, lost childhood) have several thin threads
connecting each to the other, as fourth graders might have
Dixie cup “telephones” connected by string from one backyard
to another. And like a Dixie cup, All Is Not doesn’t
hold much. The black pipe scaffolding set, the raised platform,
the white shower curtain with running water, the dry cleaner’s
mechanical rotary full with clear plastic clothes bags that
whirl left and right, and the raised platform with lectern
and slide carousel are all evidence of the supreme effort
to give All Is Not a substantial production that the
play doesn’t earn.
The play opens with balding, alienated upscale father Richard
(Mark Setlock) standing upstage of the upscale sink that stands
on the top of the massive dry-cleaner carousel that takes
up most of stage right. He counts his lost hairs.
The uptight, upscale Shelley (Colleen Werthmann) bursts into
the Korean dry cleaner frantic for her dress; she’s lost the
ticket, but Kyung-Soon (Haerry Kim) tells her pleasantly,
“No problem” while assistant Hyun (Mina Kim) whirls the empty
clothes bags on the carousel to find the lost dress.
Middle-schooler Chad (Malcolm Morano) gives a rambling presentation
with slides of a lost tribe’s lost lifestyle, while slipping
in snippets of his lost family life with his just-divorced
parents, who kibitz him offstage.
In 86 minutes, All Is Not lives up to its title. The
audience laughs occasionally, some lines are connected and
repeated through the four stories, the rain rains in every
locale, most of the things lost stay lost (ATF had been developing
the play for four years with the title Lost, but changed
it to prevent confusion with the TV series). Upscale materialism
is smacked with the subtlety and skill of a gorilla with a
dead branch. There’s a germ of an idea in All Is Not,
but the too clever, too showy, too superficial staging and
playing act as antibiotics. ATF’s Artistic Director Martha
Banta has midwifed many excellent new plays, from Fully
Committed to Barbara’s Blue Kitchen to Bingo!
to last year’s excellent Girl in the Frame, but All
Is Not needs more womb time.