Moonbox Theater puts its heart where its art is: With each new production, Moonbox finds a community non-profit to partner with. This holiday season it’s a food bank called FOOD FOR FREE, reclaiming food from restaurants etc which might otherwise be discarded (www.foodforfree.org). There are but a handful of arts organizations truly committed to making a difference in the world by reaching out beyond performance and Moonbox is top of the list. (Hub Theatre also comes to mind for its all performances-pay-what-you-can program to make theater accessible to everyone. I’m sure there are others. I hope there are others.)
Moonbox, you may recall, produced last year’s THE WILD PARTY, certainly the most exciting musical of the season. They’re always on my list of companies who can deliver solid, well made theater… so here’s my dilemma. AMADEUS is not, despite a tour de force from Matthew Zahnzinger as Antonio Salieri. Even though AMADEUS is named for Mozart, Peter Shaffer’s exacting play is centered on his celebrated rival.
The play is entirely Salieri’s: He’s obsessed with the “boy-genius” whose father paraded him across Europe and who now could threaten Salieri’s reign as court composer. When Salieri realizes he is no longer “God’s chosen composer” and this man-child Mozart is, he sets about to ruin him. What’s more, he feels betrayed by God and declares war on the almighty!
Zahnzinger’s physical performance is impeccable, seamlessly moving from an invalided quavering of aging voice and body to a flourishing and robust middle age. And Zahnzinger’s emotional performance shifts from thriving confidence to crumbling corrosion in a breathtaking transformation. Director Allison Olivia Choate and music director Dan Rodriguez create a heart-stopping moment to illustrate the damage Salieri has caused: At the very moment he crushes a page of Mozart’s gorgeous Requiem in his fist, the music stops cold.
The role of Mozart isn’t an easy one. The historical facts are that Mozart’s childhood was stolen when his father exploited his children to enrich his own fortune and fame. Mozart grew into a merry prankster, with a penchant for scatological humor (as evinced in his fond, naughty letters to his sister) and scant knowledge of how to survive on his own without his father.
Shaffer makes his Mozart brash and completely unconcerned with proper social behavior, so much so that Salieri is scandalized that the most sublime music in the universe could emanate from this unruly, irritating creature. Whoever portrays Mozart must convey a lot more than rudeness and silliness. He must portray Mozart’s warmth and vulnerability. Otherwise why would Constanze (Caroline Keeler in a lovely, spunky performance) give him the time of day! Alas, Cody Sloan’s Mozart is one note.
Shaffer was never finished with the play, writing several endings. Alas, Moonbox has chosen the longest and least effective dramatically (in my opinion). It distresses me no end to be writing this, knowing how much work Moonbox put into this production: gorgeous costumes (David Lucey), sensational wigs (Peter Mill) and most importantly, smart direction which allows an audience on three sides to see and hear clearly. (Sightlines are a tricky business. I can think of at least three shows this year when I couldn’t hear from where I was seated.)
Alas, although it’s an inspired idea to use historically informed instruments for the soundtrack, they come through sounding garbled and muted some of the time. When Shaffer wanted those bone chilling chords from DON GIOVANNI to scare the heck out of us, he didn’t envision two emasculated chords which land practically without impact.
Alas, although the program “beg[s] our indulgence” if some of the French or Italian is amiss—and I must say the conversational French and Italian both sounded excellent to me—there’s a glaring mispronunciation of an Italian opera which set my teeth on edge. Since the play is about composers of opera, I would think correct titles would be paramount.
If you can overlook my list of complaints, and this really is just my opinion, you will be amazed by Zahnzinger’s stellar performance.