Rivalry, Revenge, and Retribution

A basic human drive is rivalry, and it is the center of many a dramatic or comedic play. We saw it last week in “Bell, Book, and Candle” in the rivalry between Gillian and the unseen Merle Kittridge. We saw it again in this week’s play, “Amadeus” (written by Peter Shaffer), currently running at the Repertory East Playhouse in Newhall CA until December 11, 2010.

Amadeus” (you may have seen the motion picture) tells the story of the rivalry between Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart… or should I say imagined rivalry, for Mozart didn’t see Salieri as a rival, whereas Salieri saw Mozart as a rival in God’s eyes. The story is told in flashback, from Salieri’s point of view, as Salieri is dying. He is attempting to confess to killing Mozart by relating the story of how he did the deed. He begins by telling how he dedicated his life to praising God through music, but when he saw Mozart’s music, realized that God had forsaken him and chosen Mozart to be his voice. Further, Salieri saw that Mozart was a base and callow fellow, a pottymouthed, childish prodigy, further cementing the notion that the gift must be from God. At the moment of that realization, Salieri vows to make God abandon his chosen voice. Much of the play is Salieri relating how he believes his actions created the situations that drove Mozart deeper into poverty, dispair, and eventual destitution. At the end, Mozart is dead in his 30s, but Salieri lives on another 25 years being elevated in fame, only to know that everlasting fame and retribution will be Mozart’s, for it will be Mozart’s music that survives. Salieri eventually commits suicide so that his name will at least live in infamy, but fails in that as well.

The REP performance of “Amadeus” was outstanding, thanks to the firm directoral hand of O. Michael Owston (artistic director of REP East) and the talents of the actors. It is hard to separate the two of them, as I learned during the talkback, for the director would make a suggestion as to how to do a scene, and the actors would bring their talent to the realization of the scene.

At the lead of the talented acting ensemble was Daniel Lenchæ as Antonio Salieri. This is an exhausting role, for Salieri is the driving force behind the story, on stage 100% of the time. Lench pulled it off with perfection, capturing the intensity and passion behind the role. The performance was riveting to watch, and well deserving of the standing ovation it received. Also in this performance tier were Daniel Sykes as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Amber Van Schwinn as Constanze Weber Mozart. Sykes captured well the playful child that this play purports Mozart to be, while still providing glimmers of the talented prodigy. He also captured well the descent and how the child-man was unable to reconcile that with his youth. Van Schwinn was a delight to watch as Constanze, for her playfulness came through in her performance in her face, in her movement, and in a general glow. All three were just amazing and are not to be missed.

The second group of actors that were fun to watch were Bess Fanningæ and Kyle Johnson as the Venticellis. These were the spies (for lack of a better term) for Salieri, bringing him information and rumors about Mozart. Again, their playfullness and their facial expressions and movements just made the characters come alive. Rounding out the cast, in supporting roles, were Harry Bennettæ (Emperor Joseph II), Mikee Van Schwinn (Baron Gottried Van Swieten), Michael Levine (Court Orsini-Rosenberg), John Morris (Johann Kilian Von Strack), and Carole Catanzaro (Katherina Cavalieri).
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

The technical side of the production was handled by a mix of REP regulars and some new folk. On the regular side, we were treated to the always excellent set design by Jeff Hyde, the sound design by Steven “Nanook” Burkholder, and the lighting design by Tim Christianson. The set was augmented by the scenic design by Katie Mitchell, and the two combined created a warm 18th century facility with a beautiful wooden pseudo-harpsichord (which alas, was non-functional, leading to recorded music which perhaps was the one weakness of the show… but then again, teaching actors to play Mozart flawlessly in limited time is difficult). The costumes were by Tonya Nelson of No Strings Attached Costumes and were wonderful to watch (although I imagine not wonderful to be in). Erik Klein served as Stage Manager.

Amadeus” continues at REP East until December 11, 2010. Go see it, for it is excellent. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box Office or by calling (661) 288-0000. The REP has announced the 2011/7th season: Moonlight and MagnoliasFrankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” (January 21-February 19); “The Diary of Anne Frank (Mary 11-April 16); “Cabaret” (May 13-June 18); “Jewtopia” (July 15-July 30); “Doubt” (August 12-August 27); “Laughter on the 23rd Floor (Sept. 16-October 22); and “The Graduate” (November 18-December 17). Member Circle season tickets (2 tickets to each show) are $230 adult/$200 student & senior; Patron Circle (1 ticket to each show) is $120 Adult/$110 student & senior. Call the REP for information on subscribing or information on additional packages.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. November closes with two shows: The Wild Party” at Malibu Stage Company on Friday November 26, and Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels” at the Mark Taper Forum (ticketed for Saturday November 27). December will bring Uptown, Downtown” starring Leslie Uggams at the Pasadena Playhouse on December 11, Next to Normal” at the Ahmanson on December 18, and for Karen and Ern, West Side Story” at the Pantages Theatre on December 24 (I’m not interested in that particular production, especially at Pantages prices).

Looking briefly into 2011: January is mostly open with only Tom Paxton at McCabes ticketed for my birthday, January 21. February will bring the first show of the REP 2011 season, “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” (pending ticketing for February 5), followed by The Marvellous Wonderettes” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on February 12; Rock of Ages” at the Pantages on February 19. February closes with Moonlight and Magnoliasat the Colony Theatre on February 26. March is also mostly open right now, although March 26 is being held for The Diary of Anne Frank” at REP East. Of course, I learn of interesting shows all the time, so expect additions to this schedule.

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review, and that I purchase my own tickets to the shows. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.