Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

"Amadeus" and "Ten Naked Men", but Not Together

by Richard Connema

Maybe it would have been more interesting to see Amadeus and 10 Naked Men on the stage together. I do give Theatre Works credit for wanting to present the 20th Anniversary of Peter Shaffer's play, Amadeus. It is a difficult play to produce and it needs great actors in both the roles of Salieri and Mozart. I first saw the play at the London Haymarket with Paul Scofield and Simon Callow. I then saw it in New York with Sir Ian McKellen playing the role of Salieri and finally here on the West Coast with John Wood doing the honors. This production needed that caliber of acting.

I was happy to hear that two of my most favorite Bay Area actors would attempt these stellar roles for Theatre Works. Joseph Vincent, former artistic director of the California Shakespeare Festival and noted actor, would play Salieri while Francis Jue, the delightful actor who played the MC in Cabaret and Molina in Spider Woman, would play Mozart. I could see that director Robert Kelly would assemble this superb team of actors and crew members to put on a bang up show.

After I saw the play on Sunday, I did have mixed the emotions about the production. Eric Landisman had a natty set design which featured a raised, marbleized oval platform. It included scrim-like walls with lights changing colors to meet the scene. It was particularly interesting to see silhouettes of live actors and actresses in costumes, dancing around during the ball room scene. It was also great to see figures in Mozart's mind looming up in the second act and the 18th Century costumes were opulent. The director used an enormous oval deck that could remind you of Salieri's tormented mind. He used architectural fragments such as a pedestal, a theater proscenium and the flat chandeliers coming from the top of the stage for the ballroom scene.

Mr. Vincent brought some of the chiaroscuro depth to the dominant role of Salieri. He was droll in his direct address to the audience. He was very genteel, maybe a little too genteel, even when he set about to seduce Mozart's wife. Toward the end of the play he gave a wry yet cold delivery to the audience. However his voice was beautiful and clear.

One of my favorite actors has always been Francis Jue. I have seen him in everything he has done here in the Bay Area. His opening scene was very well done; he scampered about chasing Constanze, using puppy talk, then came out with a caterwauling giggle and beaming grin. It did show that Mozart was a bawdy, scatological scamp. His act one monologue on how opera can speak for everyone was one of the high points of the production.

My only fault with Mr Jue's acting lies with his melodramatics as a martyr toward the end of the play. There was too much weepy, brave tone and a staggering heroism for my taste. He could have toned down this part of the play. Jessa Brie Burkina was very good as Constanze while Ron Evans was excellent as the stuffy opera director. I give Robert Kelly an 'A' for effort in putting on this difficult play.

Ten Naked Men is a different kettle of fish, far removed from the classic drama of Amadeus. Ronnie Larsen, who has been so successful in New York with his three off Broadway plays, Make Porn, Peep Show and 10 Naked Men, brought the latter to the Rhinoceros Theatre. 10 Naked Men ran successfully in both LA and New York.

... Men is about two young gay men who leave Denver to pursue personal and professional dreams in the gay mecca of West Hollywood. Mr. Larsen played Robert, a portly and not very talented serious actor, while Gabriel Mason played his best friend Kenny. Their lives become entangled with several "escort service" hookers. Robert bumbles into an ongoing three-way cat fight between two sleazy agents and an unscrupulous TV commercial producer. Robert did obtain one gig and that is a commercial for an ice cream company. His audition with a fake plastic pop stick representing the ice cream cone is hilarious.

The play includes some very funny situations and there are casual swipes at minor celebrities. Mr. Larsen, who also directed the play, got sharply rendered performances from all of the cast. Larsen's performance as Robert was the plays prime asset. One of the most hilarious scenes is one in which he is on the phone for the first time to call up hustlers for a date. He is very scared when he is talking to these butch numbers and hangs up before completely the conversation.

There were nine naked men, not ten, but they were not naked all the time. I do have to say they were very good looking. It really is good show and not all camp and games. There is a lot of truth in the play. (Take it from me, since I have been involved in the Hollywood scene for many years.)

- Richard Connema

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