Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
The Mosaic Theatre has outdone itself with an ambitious undertaking. This over-three-hour production, including intermission, keeps watchers at the edge of their seats, despite multiple scene and costume changes and fluctuations back and forth in time. The play was masterfully written by Peter Shaffer and follows the life of mediocre composer Antonio Salieri (John Felix) and his quest for revenge against the magnificent genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Christian Rockwell).
The piece begins when Salieri is an old man on the last day of his life. We see shadows behind the jutting pieces of a scrimlike set. The three tiers of music papers appear to be almost shaped like puzzle pieces to add to the mystery. We hear eerie whispers calling Salieri's name. Rumors have it that Salieri murderered Mozart but most do not believe it.
Salieri takes us back in time to tell his version of the story. It is 1781 and, as Mozart's popularity grows and his own wanes, Salieri begins to believe that Mozart is the instrument of God and decides to wage war on them both. He uses Mozart's wife, Constanze Weber (Ursula Freundlich), to add to the betrayal. The members of the court, who grow weary of Mozart's tomfoolery and crude mannerisms, are more than happy to oblige in any attempt against the composer.
Felix is brilliant as Salieri. We feel his melancholy and utter inner torture as music plays within him, mocking his own talents. We sympathize with his cunning ways. We laugh at his indulgences over sweets, described at length. He is as familiar as an old friend. The poetic language is made even more vibrant coming through him. For Felix to memorize without flaw three hours of what is almost a monologue is a feat unto itself.
Rockwell is equally superb. He plays Amadeus almost exactly as Tom Hulce did in the 1984 movie. He even looks like him. At one moment, he is a genius washed by peace while composing a perfect tune easily within his mind. The next, he is crawling on the floor, rolling about and pouncing like a cat on the mouse played by his wife. He is rude, crude and an utter jackass. His obnoxious behavior is certainly not acceptable at court. Rockwell plays the part flawlessly, always surprising us during his mood shifts or sudden and without-cause laughter.
Freundlich, as his wife, goes through the motions for the most part, warming rarely into the character. We do see her indecision over whether to be in cahoots with Salieri in order to help her husband. Other than that, she is a pretty little thing that is secondary in the scheme of things.
Most characters are very one-dimensional within the piece and several actors play more than one role. Steve Gladstone as Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, stops and starts quite a bit without flow or seeming intention. Yet this almost absent-mindedness is charming and his appearance, not to mention his one-liners, serve as comic relief. Equally funny is the seemingly ever-bored stature of Greg Schroeder playing Baron Van Swieten. But similarly, his performance has stops and starts.
These notes are a trifle. Mosaic's Mozart is amazing and was deserving of the nearly standing-room only crammed seating and the standing ovation that followed. The costumes are beautiful. The set is simple, but they make the most out of it. The story is poignant. The music is engaging. The performances of John Felix and Christian Rockwell make it worth sitting for three hours. Kudos to director Richard Jay Simon for taking on such a monster of a play. Amadeus is a must-see.
Amadeus was shown through the 17th and will again be presented October 28th-31st at the American Heritage Center for the Arts, 122000 W. Broward Blvd. in Plantation. For tickets, please call 954-577-8243 or www.mosaictheatre.com.