IMPULSIVE GENIUS Youth, music, and energy flow together in Amadeus.
Early in his youth, an Italian named Antonio Salieri (the outstanding Blair Hundertmark) knelt in church, looked up, and saw a certain God: "An old, candle-smoked God with a mulberry robe, staring out at the world with a dealer's eyes." The God he saw was a guy who would strike a bargain. Then and there, Salieri tells us as an old, ruined man with a walker, he laid out his terms: He wanted brilliance and fame in the realm of music, and in exchange he would dedicate his life and music to carrying out God's will.

Salieri did, in fact, go on to know wealth and renown as a composer in Vienna, but his name probably means a lot less to most of us than does that of another composer of the time, a young punk named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (CJ Lewis, exuberantly). Salieri has a venomous jealousy of the younger composer, whose music has an effortless divinity lacking in Salieri's own, and it is this jealousy that fuels Peter Shaffer's masterfully written Amadeus, in excellent production at the New Hampshire Theatre Project. Shifting back and forth between old Salieri's narrative, in 1823, and his life at the Vienna court of 1781-91, the drama reveals his lifelong efforts to ruin his rival and, thereby, the God he believes has betrayed him.

This all plays out on a sparse stage in post-industrial tones of black and steel: Director Genevieve Aichele has chosen to remove the elaborate period trappings of the Viennese court, as she says in the program notes, so that wigs and other extravagances won't distract from Shaffer's exquisite wordcraft and the music of Mozart itself. Instead the setting loosely evokes the 1980s, with the rich court composers in expensive suits, a soprano in low-cut evening frippery, and the penniless enfant terrible Mozart in sloppy punk garb and Chucks. Aichele's design choice isn't overdone — it's more of a suggestion than a heavy-handed conceit — and is a wise one: The contemporary styles let us focus on the contrast of personality and culture between the hard, driven Salieri and his guileless nemesis.

That contrast is beautifully manifested by Hundertmark and Lewis. When Salieri is at court, Hundertmark is a study in correct artifice, from the crisp lines of his suit and the perfect angle of his hands in his lap to the restrained set of his jaw. Lewis's cherub-faced Mozart, on the other hand — whom we first see on his hands and knees delighting in obscenities with his girlfriend Constanze (Sam Cistulli, with impressive range) — is all loose, energetic impulse: Incapable of sitting still, he reels and flutters around the court stiffs, his sensual mouth gapes like an awed child's, and he punctuates his joyful, bubbling rushes of speech with a high-pitched giggle. He doesn't take his musical abilities as seriously as he does his skills at billiards, and the powerful can't stomach his outrageous ways. He grows poorer as savvy Salieri gains wealth.

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Related: Review: Good Theater's solid Moonlight and Magnolias, Trinity Rep’s rip-roaring His Girl Friday, Play by play: March 12, 2010, More more >
  Topics: Theater , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Theater, Theatre,  More more >
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