Spinning Tree Theatre’s production of “Amadeus” humanizes a legend and demonizes an ordinary man in a play as grand and complex as any opera, yet presented with elegant minimalism.
Starring Robert Gibby Brand as Antonio Salieri and Michael Reiser as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the company brought to life Peter Shaffer’s script of envy, passion and genius, a work derived from fantasy, rumors and speculation.
Michael Grayman directed the excellent cast and quick-moving plot (despite its operatic length), utilizing the intimacy of the thrust stage for an inclusive experience. The audience was brought in as spirits conjured by Salieri, witness to his deathbed confessions and addressed directly. There also were moments when the audience watched the cast watch an imaginary opera, with mirrored expressions.
Brand carried the bulk of the script and dramatic elements, narrating in extensive monologues and displaying pride, vengeance and a glib wit.
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Reiser’s Mozart had a tiresome personality, feckless and rude, with a manic smile and precocious energy that nevertheless conveyed a charming boy-child, more helpless than heedless, in an excellent arc of character (and impressively multilingual).
The rest of the main speaking cast gave thorough performances, too, that balanced laugh lines and subtleties of character: Megan Herrera (Constanze), Walter Coppage (Emperor Joseph II), Jordan Fox, Andy Penn and Matthew Schmidli (courtiers) and Amber McKinnon and Bob Wearing as the two mincing, gossiping Venticelli. The additional supernumerary roles were tacit, yet essential and effective, too.
With minimal props and staging devices, scene and costume changes often happened on stage. In Friday’s preview performance there were still instances of awkward coat swaps.
However, the production made good use of these limited choices, especially through lighting. Outsized images were projected on the backdrop, the only indication of place: a lofty apartment, narrow garret or opulent drawing room.
The richness of the Viennese court and the story’s salacious underbelly came through in the sexy costumes, designed by Leah Mazur in a palette of ivory, cream and taupe. Gold brocade tailcoats and lace collars juxtaposed with exposed undergarments: corsets, hoop skirts, pantaloons, garters and sheer fabrics.
Without onstage instruments (the music was recorded), actors were forced to mime keyboard playing, as well as faux singing and conducting. Though necessary in context, these actions came off contrived and distracting.
Nevertheless, the story was embodied with such vigor that it achieved theater’s most exalted state: a work of fiction that transcends fact.
Spinning Tree Theatre’s production of “Amadeus” runs through May 15 at The Arts Asylum, 1000 E. Ninth St. Tickets, $25-$40, are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2504355.