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Regional Reviews: San Diego

North Coast Repertory Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Kiss My Aztec

Rafael Goldstein and Tony Amendola
Photo by Aaron Rumley
Stories adapted from real life occurrences often have to fabricate events to fill in the narrative. Artistic license, when used effectively, can result in a complete and believable tale and Peter Shaffer's 1979 Tony Award winning play Amadeus is a good example of this. Shaffer deals with tough questions about talent, mental instability, and vengeance, and the North Coast Repertory Theatre's production in Solana Beach does justice to the play.

The story begins in a Vienna mental institution in November 1823, with Antonio Salieri (Tony Amendola) telling his visitors (the audience) that he murdered his legendary rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Rafael Goldstein). The narrative soon shifts back in time to 1781, when Salieri is the court composer to Emperor Joseph II (Louis Lotorto). While Salieri is deeply religious, his strong moral code starts eroding once Mozart becomes a bigger part of his life. Although Salieri is in awe of Mozart's music and talent, he hates the younger man's immature and raunchy attitude and, consumed with jealousy and dislike, decides to destroy him and his career.

Audiences do have to pay close attention to Shaffer's dialogue, as the relationship between Mozart and Salieri is a complicated and nuanced one. Salieri's schemes are not always intuitively obvious or easily grasped. Shaffer deals with the story's dark aspects in a fascinating and, yes, enjoyable manner. The tale is inherently bleak, but there are so many interesting characters, so much ironic humor and compelling dialogue that theatregoers will leave the theatre invigorated by the interpretation. Having a strong director is always invaluable, and director Richard Baird doesn't disappoint in this department.

Baird depicts Vienna with a grand atmosphere that is fitting for this three-hour tale. His direction ranges from some scenes that cause uproarious laughter from the audience to others that are so intimate you could practically hear a pin drop. The work from his crew is just as effective, with Elisa Benzoni's costumes, Peter Herman's hair and wig design, and Marty Burnett's set presenting a Vienna that's sophisticated and beautiful. Additionally, Matt Novotny's lighting is visually distinct during Salieri's monologues, and Aaron Rumley's audio uses famous melodies from Mozart that tie into the plot. Besides the strong work from his crew, Baird gets intelligent performances from the cast.

Amendola plays Salieri in a reserved manner for a good portion of act one, until Salieri starts to demonstrate his obsessively jealous nature, depicting a gradual decline in a haunting way. Goldstein portrays Mozart as both an obnoxious sex-loving character and a smart and rebellious artist. His performance is moving in a subplot that involves Mozart and his unseen father, Leopold. There are memorable turns as well from Kathryn Tkel as Mozart's supportive-to-a-point wife Constanze Weber, Lotorto as the clueless Joseph II, and Nick Kennedy and Andrew Oswald as the narrow-minded counts, Johann Kilian Von Strack and Orsini-Rosenberg. Each of the players is given a fair share of standout moments.

North Coast Rep's 38th season is off to an excellent start and Baird's rendition is first-rate historical drama.

Amadeus runs through October 6, 2019, at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D, Solana Beach CA. Tickets start at $49.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 858-481-1055.