Thursday, April 10, 2014

Amadeus at Leviathan Theatre Co. Pt. 2

4:49 PM
From the program: amazing masks from Kurtzman & Deedler
Read part 1 of this review

There's a kind of weird for weird's sake that grates. The Leviathan Theatre Co.'s Amadeus flirts with it, but is saved by two things.

The first is the handling of the supporting characters. They're animals. (See picture to the left.)

On paper, this reads like the craziest choice in the whole production, but it is so completely and meticulously realized as to be effortlessly accessible to the audience. The actors' character work is exquisite. Laurie Wolf's papery, wheedling voice and curling hand gestures give her a preying-mantis aura to match Baron van Swieten's bug-eyed mask. Count Johann von Strack's muzzle and wolf-eared wig are enhanced by Trevor Johnson's husky, growling line deliveries and hunkering posture. Count Orsini-Rosenberg's amphibious mask sits atop a costume that seems to be a repurposed hoop skirt. It hangs from actor Liam O'Neill's neck and shoulders, giving him an absurd girth and covering the chair on which he sits, wheeling around the stage and declaiming in a fat bass drone. (O'Berski and designers Chelsea Kurtzman and Wil Deedler seem to have drawn their inspiration for this conceit from a single line in which Mozart spits at this character, "You look like a toad.") Kaiser Joseph II, played by Tony Perucci, wears True Detective antlers and portrays a strange, perpetually-befuddled character whose contemporary affectations ("uh . . . nobody could, uh . . . do any harm? To the Princess Elizabeth, uh . . . musically?")  probably add ten minutes to the play's runtime, but are utterly hilarious. The visuals and stylized character work put these characters in the realm of the absurd beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the specificity of the acting choices keeps us from ever wondering why, if this is all so ridiculous, we should care.

The second is Jimerson's performance as Salieri, our anti-hero. He provides the outlandish production with an earnest emotional center. Salieri's all-consuming desire to achieve fame and glory within the music world is, if not the most admirable thing, intensely human and relatable in Jimerson's hands. In Act I, young Salieri is not only a politic people-pleaser, but an affable guy who sees the world as good and logical. He promised God to lead an uncommonly moral life in exchange for musical success--he's kept his promise; he's received his success. Actors traditionally interpret the composer as rigid and sanctimonious. But, in his expository speech covering Salieri's impressive CV up to the beginning of the play, Jimerson finds notes of genuine joy and gratitude. The characterization of Salieri as a lifelike optimist stands out from the beginning amid this production's artfully stylized supporting cast, but really pays dividends once Salieri starts playing dirty. From the moment his well-ordered world is thrown out of whack by his introduction to Mozart, Jimerson pulls off a riveting transformation. He begins as a resident in that world of order and goodness; then realizes he's doesn't live there anymore, but clings to the possibility of returning; and finally himself becomes an instrument of the arbitrary nature of the universe, visiting its limitless possibilities for injustice upon others.

Amadeus is so stuffed with innovation that the ratio of artistic integrity to iconoclasm sometimes wavers. But it's funny. And it's visually beautiful. And it's arresting. And you're not going to see anything like it anywhere else.

About the author

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