KPBS AIRDATE: June 16, 2006
Crazy comes in all kinds of colors. It can be driven by jealousy or genetics. In a drama and a comedy, lunacy trumps brilliance … and plot resolution. In Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus,” the green-eyed monster makes a fiend of composer Antonio Salieri, who is the kingpin in the 18th century Viennese court — until Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart enters laughing. In the farcical “Christmas on Mars,” by Harry Kondoleon, a whacked-out extended family mutually abuses, ignores, abandons, negates and betrays – all in the name of love.
Kondoleon was a theatrical wunderkind who died in 1994 at age 39, from AIDS. He creates a wild and wacky world in “Christmas on Mars,” filled with screwy plot twists, manic monologues and madcap confessionals. It starts out sane enough, with Bruno and his girlfriend Audrey looking at a small Manhattan apartment. She announces she’s pregnant and Bruno proposes. But before you can say “nutty as a fruitcake,” in swoops Nissim, one of the most riotously deranged characters ever created. A flamboyant former flight attendant prone to fainting, Nissim suffers from a decade of unrequited love for Bruno. He speaks in florid, delirious rants – and reveals painful unspeakable truths. Soon Audrey’s long estranged mother shows up to ask forgiveness and help with the rent. The hyper-neurotic ‘family’ moves in together, and things go from bonkers to wacko, as ugly secrets unfold, invective flies and everyone hopes for redemption from the unborn baby, which Audrey, absurdly pregnant in the second act, refuses to deliver. At the Old Globe, under the aptly zany direction of Kirsten Brandt, the characterizations are amusing if not awe-inspiring. The cast is fine, but the play leaves something to be desired. The whole experience, one might say, is off the wall but not out of this world.
Now, if you want Big Themes, heady music and deep significance, Peter Shaffer pounds it home in his multiple-award-winning “Amadeus.” Timed perfectly for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, Lamb’s Players Theatre is revisiting the 1979 play that’s a delicious tale of genius vs. mediocrity, though it’s relentlessly wordy and didactic. But the production is beautifully costumed and excellently acted. David Cochran Heath admirably reprises his portrayal of Salieri, the court composer who condemns God for placing His voice in the “mouth of an obscene child.” That would be Mozart, an infantile, scatological imp whom Jon Lorenz conjures delightfully. Kerry Meads has directed with a light touch, keeping the action swirling and the tension high. But there could be more music, and it could be more audible. You owe it to yourself – and to poor beleaguered but brilliant Mozart – to celebrate his virtuosity. Just don’t take the fictionalized story, which Shaffer called ‘a fantasia,’ as fact.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.