Amadeus premiered on Sept. 7 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. Watching a North Coast Rep play is a remarkably intimate experience; the room is small enough that the actors do not require microphones to be heard, but it allows you to appreciate the performances all the more.
“Amadeus,” first performed at the Royal National Theater in 1979, is a tale of revenge, madness and jealousy. It is a story recounted and told from the point of view of real-life composer Antonio Salieri, a pious Catholic who promises his fervent devotion to God in exchange for mastery of music.
But when Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart arrives in Austria and shows himself to not only be loud and profane but vastly more talented than Salieri, the court composer vows to take his revenge upon God by ruining his most treasured voice: Mozart.
As Salieri, Tony Amendola rolls into view at the play’s beginning, in a wheelchair, to invoke the audience. The house lights come on in the only part of the play as if to involve them all. The audience is held captive to Amendola’s performance, benefited by the actor’s mastery of the Italian language. Salieri is perhaps the lone character who speaks in an accent at all; everyone else sounds thoroughly American, suggesting the overall linguistic hegemony of the empire that Salieri serves.
Amendola delivers an impassioned, humor-tinged performance that implores the audience to understand Salieri’s frustration with God. When Salieri discovers Mozart’s manuscripts, first copies of sheet music without corrections, his face contorts in spiritual pain; he writhes about as the music written upon the papers play, and he crumples in an agonized heap. But Salieri also conjures occasional laughs with lines akin to “You can see why I wanted to kill him” as Mozart struts his stuff.
The play’s titular character himself is played by Pasadena actor Rafael Goldstein, who plays up Mozart as bursting with both frustration and genius. The man immediately stands out just through his costume: a colorful, patchwork nightmare of a suit that brings to mind the Sixth Doctor from “Doctor Who.” His clothes are cursed with vertical stripes, horizontal stripes, reds, blues, pinks purples and oranges, and that’s not even bringing up his cotton candy wig. Yet somehow, the outfit works, hinting that there is a method to the madness.
Goldstein’s performance gradually segues from childlike mischief to profane anger and then eventually, pained exhaustion, all of which is simultaneously conveyed through costume. Initial instances of joyous abandon — like playing a keyboard whilst facing away from it in a moment that conjures images of Jimi Hendrix playing a guitar with his teeth — turn to fist-swinging rage and solemn self-pity. And Goldstein exudes this ennui masterfully.
Kathryn Tkel also brings heartbreaking tragedy and strength to Constanze Weber, who is willing to do unsavory things for her husband Mozart, but also suffers emotionally because of her bond to him. Genuine love and pride gradually become sorrow, leading to the crux of the play’s emotional tragedy.
North Coast Repertory’s “Amadeus” lets you play witness to a gradual murder up close and personally in the confines of its small theater, allowing you to appreciate every little nuance in the actors’ performances. Don’t pass this one up.
“Amadeus” plays at North Coast Repertory until Oct. 6. The show will play at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays, at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $55 for weeknights, Saturday matinees and a Sept. 25 matinee, and $60 for Saturday nights and Sunday matinees.