Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Amadeus at Leviathan Theatre Co.

6:34 PM
I'm throwing up Part 1 of this review before the rest is done so that I can tell you before the day ends to go see Amadeus. (Edit: Read Part 2 here!) There are three more shows, and Saturday (4/12) is already sold out. If you like theater, classical music, and/or strange innovations and you're free on Thursday or Friday, GO.

As soon as I heard Leviathan was putting on Amadeus, I knew I was going to have to see it and write it up for the blog. While I always want music to remain firmly the focus here, I'm writing a play review and will likely write more because I like the idea of occasionally dipping into other cultural happenings around the Triangle. I like it because it's fun, and I like it because--amid all today's discussion of classical music's death possible mortal injury and how to stop the bleeding--I think one of the best things we can do is see it as more intersectional with other art forms. It's hard to think of a better marriage between classical music and theater than Peter Shaffer's play.

Also because Wolfie.

Let me tell you guys right up front that I'm too much of a square for the Theatre of the Absurd. I am an idealistic sap who believes in the inherent meaning of human experience, and like anyone else, I prefer art that reflects my values. Leviathan's Amadeus is a textbook absurdist take on the play, depicting Mozart and Salieri's world as incomprehensible and ridiculous. We're not a good match, this production and I. We were never meant to be. But it's all the more a credit to Leviathan, director Jaybird O'Berski, and everyone involved that someone like me found this well-handled Amadeus sophisticated, entertaining, and even usually likable, and was able to spend a happy evening in its company.

As you know if you've seen the film, Salieri--Mozart's compositional rival--starts the story off as a malevolent, elderly resident in an insane asylum. After his opening monologue, the tale of the composers' rivalry is told as a flashback. At the Common Ground Theatre in Durham, where the production took place, audience members must walk across the stage area before the show to reach their seats. I walked through the door into the theater and nearly collided with a scary, bald, white-faced John Jimerson, Leviathan's Salieri, muttering into a microphone while he tooled around in a motor scooter. Pretty much everybody else almost collided with him too. I was thrilled--I hate nihilism, but I never said I didn't love weird.

The level of "weird" in this production is absolutely astronomical. After the motor scooter, there's Jimerson's first monologue, in which his warped voice and tremors manage to conjure up Dieter, Dr. Evil, and Jimmy Stuart, but not necessarily to telegraph age.  Then there are the Venticelli, two characters who keep Salieri abreast of the gossip in Vienna and, here, deliver dialogue in a menacing monotone--often speaking into a microphone that makes them sound like SVU serial killers on a phone call.1 The sheet music inspected and exchanged by the characters in the play is represented not by paper from the prop shop, but by enormous, perfectly spherical white balloons. A bell dings whenever anyone says the word "father." The action onstage is accompanied by Mozartean piano and harpsichord treatments of "Wrecking Ball," "Firework," and "As Long as You Love Me" (Bieber, not Backstreet Boys). Mozart and Constanze pause in the midst of a scripted argument to sing "Just Give Me A Reason," by P!nk and Nate Ruess, in its entirety. Yes. Really. Really? No. Yes. Really.2

There's a kind of weird for weird's sake that grates. This production flirts with it, but is saved from it by two things.

1 I googled "scary kidnapper voice" in an attempt to discover what this technology is actually called, but nothing turned up 2 Molly Forlines as Constanze has a rockin voice.

About the author

I'm Andrea. Everything you need to know is here.