by Lynn on February 21, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer


At the Five Points Theatre, (formerly the Mady Centre), Barrie, Ont.

Written by Peter Shaffer

Directed by Esther Jun

Set and lights by Joe Pagnan

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Sound by Joshua Doerksen

Cast: David Coomber

Izad Etemadi

Alana Hibbert

Amy Keating

Ash Knight

Alex Poch-Goldin

Amelia Sargisson

Jonathan Tan.

A stunning production directed by Esther Jun who so serves the play in spades with sensitive, intelligent direction, with fine acting, a breathtaking design resulting in brilliant theatre. Its beating heart is beautiful.

 The Story. Vienna, November 1823 and in recall1781-1791. Antonio Salieri is dying. In his day he was the top composer, music maven in Vienna in the court of Joseph II, the Emperor of Austria. He was celebrated, promoted, honoured and respected. On this last night of his life, he mumbles for forgiveness of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who died 32 years before. Salieri in his dying crazed mind confesses that he killed Mozart. His reputation is such that everybody is talking and gossiping about this confession. The play then reverts to the decade of 1781-1791.

At that time Salieri was a robust, successful man who asked God to make him a composer and to be famous at it. In return he, Salieri, would serve mankind and devote himself to serving God. Salieri thrived and prospered in the court of the Emperor as the court composer. And then he met this odious, child-man named Mozart and his life changed. Salieri realized that for all his piety to serve God with his music etc. next to Mozart, he was a mediocrity. Mozart, this hideously rude, immature man, effortlessly produced music that was touched by God and Salieri was livid at this betrayal.  He vowed to take revenge with no less an opponent than God. He would get even by destroying Mozart all the while seemingly to champion him.

 The Production. Joe Pagnan is the wunderkind who designed this exquisite set that is simple yet suggests the whole complex sweep and richness of the court of the Emperor. Two suspended structures with fine wood spokes that look like sweeping staircases spread out stage left and right, culminating in two swirled structures on either end. Upstage centre is a large framed structure offering places to enter and exit or a frame behind which appear silhouette ‘characters’ who add to the production. Because the production is in period costumes (bravo Michelle Bohn), the silhouettes of characters are quite striking and classy.

If actors fill all the parts you could have a cast of about 20. Director Esther Jun accomplished the same task with eight actors. Silhouettes are used to suggest characters; double casting and quick changes do the trick in other ways. Jun handles it all with fluid efficiency. But it is her keen vision and imagination that dazzles and conjures the richness of the court of Joseph II with the simplest of props: a smart table or chairs stage left or a piano stage right are really all that’s needed to suggest the lushness of the court, or the high society in which Salieri moved.

The casting is inspired and every single gesture or movement is of the time of the play—no mean feat, that. Esther Jun’s attention to detail in this production is stunning. David Coomber is a giddy, hyper-active Amadeus Mozart. One almost thinks he has Attention Deficit Disorder or might be on the autistic spectrum, it’s such a big, bold performance. But Coomber can break your heart in a thrice when he is crushed by disappointment after disappointment. His enthusiasm for his projects; his championing of the common people in his operas; his impishness when he’s being risqué and his staunch defence of his work, create a wonderful performance of a genius.

Alex Poch-Goldin as Salieri is determined to destroy Mozart. We hear Mozart’s music keenly by the way Salieri describes its perfection when he first hears it (“The Adagio of the Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments”). Salieri first describes it breathlessly as if that exquisite music causes pain, shatters the listener. Because of the delicate, gripping way Poch-Goldin describes that music, I hear it again for the first time and get weepy. That never happened to me before with this play. Shattering.

As the Venticelli (gossips) Alana Hibbert and Jonathan Tan have that smugness of the malicious gossip. They play off each other riffing on the rumours that are swirling around, mainly thanks to their efforts. Tan also plays Emperor Joseph II, the well-intentioned but dimly insensitive patron of Mozart’s art. He always has a self-serving smile, he so pleased with himself.

Amy Keating plays a snide, sneering Count Strack (Groom of the Imperial Chamber—chin in the air, grimacing as if “he” smelled something bad, chest puffed out, bent arm in the air for effect—a beauty of a creation of a pompous ass. Izad Etemadi plays Count Orsini-Rosenberg, the Director of the Imperial Opera. His main complaint about Mozart’s work is that there are too many notes. (Ya gotta love that guy.) Izad Etemadi plays Count Orsini-Rosenberg with that self-important sneer as well, but with flair. He has a subtle curl of hair in the middle of his forehead with the rest of his hair fluffed to within an inch of its life. And when the Count gives a look of disdain Etemadi does it by shooting beams from the whites of his eyes and nailing you with a stare from the darkness of those orbs. Quite astonishing. Ash Knight plays Baron Van Swieten, Mozart’s true champion who appreciates his work. Knight plays him with compassion and sensitivity. Amelia Sargisson plays Constanza, Mozart’s wife, the love of his life, his playmate in silly games, his protector, his sparring partner in frustration and his heartbroken partner at the end. It’s a lovely, varied, charming performance of a complex character.

 Comment. Before this production, I thought Amadeus was just one more tedious play by Peter Shaffer in which he writes about the gifted outcast either with envy or with disappointment. In Equus the psychiatrist envies the passion of the young man he has to treat, who blinded several horses, because the psychiatrist has no passion for anything. In Amadeus Salieri devotes himself to God for making him a famous composer only to find that God gave the hideous Mozart all the talent for no reason and he’s going to get even. Before this production I always thought: “Oh get a grip and grow up!” But Esther Jun’s production (of which they are using Shaffer’s revised text) makes me go deeper and see the angst of both men who just want to make music. She makes me see the depth of the minds of the characters and their devotion to the arts and music. And again, I got weepy.

 This production is a gift. See it.

Produced by Talk is Free Theatre

Opened: Feb. 16, 2018.

Closes: Feb. 24, 2018.

Running Time:  2 hours, 40 minutes.


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