Readers may recall the Milos Forman film Amadeus, with its lovely visuals, but Peter Shaffer’s play came first, feels fresher and, as is often the case, has a sharper intellectual edge than the movie that followed.
The play is both a virtuoso opportunity and a strenuous stamina test for the actor playing Salieri. He has numerous monologues mixing outrage, devotion, humor—often at his own expense—and grim determination. Salieri also is onstage almost constantly; there are few opportunities for the actor to sit down and catch his breath. Allen Pontes ultimately takes command of the role, but on the night I saw the show, he was hard to hear during several opening monologues during the show’s first half. (Perhaps tired from speaking so many lines the night before?) But after intermission, as the story takes an increasingly tragic slant, Pontes came on strong, and his final, ironic scenes as the aged Salieri, forgotten by the world, were marvelous. In fact, the whole show picked up momentum during the second half.
The physical demands on the actor playing Mozart are less numerous, but the play does require one very tricky transition. We are introduced to Mozart as a giggling troublemaker who indulges in baby talk and potty language and who spontaneously blurts out too-candid remarks when meeting the great and powerful. And actor Bill Voorhees, an irrepressible energy source in any production, has a field day in these scenes. Voorhees also turns Mozart’s oncoming illness and death into an extended study of accelerating physical decay. You really do believe the man is hurting.
But the play also requires the actor playing Mozart to make several abrupt transitions. When he sits down at the keyboard to play, or at his desk to compose, this smirking imp needs to make a credible transformation into a musical talent of celestial proportions, capable of knocking out very nearly perfect music in a first draft, composing symphonies—great ones—in weeks, rather than months or years. Voorhees closes his eyes and conducts like a highly emotive but not very disciplined grad student. But I’d like to see further manifestation of the composer’s angelic gift.
The show’s sound design is problematic, with the speaker below the stage and with music that starts and stops, rather than fading up and down. —Jeff Hudson
Main Street Theatre Works’ Amadeus plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 9; $10-$14 ($5 for students under 18). Sutter Creek Theatre, 44 Main Street (Highway 49), Sutter Creek; (209) 267-5680 to charge tickets. Through March 22.