An embarrassment of riches
by Sally Mitani
Amadeus, at the Performance Network through June 10, is as perfumed, sensual, and squishy as overripe tropical fruit and as viciously cerebral as (I imagine anyway) a tea party for Nobel Prize runners-up.
The story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's brief career in Vienna, as told by his now-forgotten rival Antonio Salieri, is almost certainly untrue in every way except for the existence of the characters and their birth and death dates. But since Peter Shaffer's original stage play opened in London in 1979, Shaffer's take on history has for all practical purposes replaced whatever the actual history is. In his version, the fruity, indolent, airless court of Joseph II is thick with most of the seven deadly sins. Salieri (Malcolm Tulip), musikmeister of the court, is the guy who's always gotten As through hard work and officiousness, while Mozart (Chris Korte) is a smutty, bratty simpleton in every way except musically. Mozart gives in happily to every kind of corruption around him,
yet Salieri whose passions have until now been roused only by sticky sugar confections is the one who is undone, by his jealousy.
Visually, Amadeus is even more thrilling than when it debuted. Everyone on stage looks like Boy George, and one realizes with shock that that must not have been nearly so shocking twenty-some years ago. But the bizarre headgear, costumes, and makeup of the late eighteenth century (and 1980s) are just fun gift wrap over a story that doesn't even need it. With Mozart's music providing the soundtrack, Amadeus as theater is an embarrassment of riches.
Malcolm Tulip, who also directs, is a genius for making heavy-trapping costume drama sing and ripple on a small stage. (Gillian Eaton was originally intended to direct this but had to drop out, and some of the credit is probably due to her. They've often collaborated.) The third wonderful character in this production is Emperor Joseph. Loren Bass plays him as a kind of John O'Hurley/J. Peterman in drag, whose charming inattentiveness almost begins to seem like a kind of wisdom of its own in counterpoint to the overheated melodramas taking place in his mucky court.
And then there's the delightful confluence that makes it possible to eat a pre-Amadeus dinner at a restaurant of the same name only a block away. Unless someone writes a play called Arbor Brewing Company, this is not likely to happen again soon.
[Review published June 2007]