Friday, March 6, 2009

Richmond Shakespeare: Amadeus

I know "Amadeus" is all wrong, but I love it anyway. It's one of the movies I find myself thinking about at least once a year, one scene or another flashing across my inner vision.

I detest Salieri, and I understand him. I despair of mediocrity, and I revel in the ordinary. I can't agree that talent is a gift entire, doled out by a mysterious or capricious God, but faced with something like the "Gran Partita" Serenade ("high above it-- an oboe--a single note--hanging there, unwavering") , the alternatives seem unlikely.

I've been anticipating Richmond Shakespeare's stage production for months, and I finally got to go last night. Performances by the entire cast were strong, and I didn't notice the period-inappropriate "manners and nuances" that Style Weekly reviewer Mary Buruss remarked upon. (Anachronistic gestures are a pet peeve of mine, too, but either I'm not as nuanced as she, or RS cleaned things up.)

Salieri (Andrew Hamm) and Mozart (Mike Hamilton) and Constanze (Liz Blake) take bows at the end of "Amadeus," but they're not the only main characters. The music is a presence so massive it functions as a separate character, and this notion is encouraged by Shaffer's script, which likens Mozart's music to God's voice, or God incarnate.

In Richmond Shakespeare's production of "Amadeus," the music is problematic. What to do, when the house (in this case, the chapel of Second Presbyterian Church) has limited production capabilities? There's no precise sound control, no way to bring sound in at different source points--no way, in other words, to give this character the independence it deserves.

I don't know what Shaffer's stage directions for the music actually are, but I feel RS erred on the side of caution. The several instances when music overlapped speaking worked just fine, and there should have been more of this, and more music in general.

I also don't know what liberties, if any, were taken with Shaffer's script, but there should have been more of those, too. Liberties, that is; to be precise: cuts. It's almost a joke to complain that there were "too many words," but that's exactly how I felt, especially in Mozart's dying moments but also in Salieri's opening monologue and various of his narrative advances. Richmond Shaekspeare can do silence well (their "Hamlet" was an excellent example), but if the script contains unnecessary words, lengthening the spaces between them isn't going to help.

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