Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
July 1, 2011
If you believe British playwright Sir Peter Shaffer, some of the most glorious music ever composed was written by a whinnying ninny, a foppish, foul-mouthed eternal adolescent who galloped around Vienna, screwing his piano pupils and repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth. That’s the Mozart of Shaffer’s fictionalized historical drama, “Amadeus.” But Shaffer goes one fantasy further, hypothesizing that the court composer, Antonio Salieri , consumed with envy at recognizing the brilliance of his younger competitor, set about, systematically and malevolently, to destroy him. Mozart died in poverty in 1791, and had a pauper’s funeral.
So, as the shallow Austrian Emperor, Joseph II, frequently says, “There it is.”
Reams have been written since the drama premiered in 1979, and became an Oscar-winning film in 1984. Most of Shaffer’s creation is pure conjecture or frankly false. But it makes a great story. And the real part, about a prodigy who died at age 35, is a tragic heartbreaker.
The nearly 3-hour confessional, a dying man looking back on his life, and begging forgiveness from us, his final visitors, and from the long-dead Mozart, is practically a monologue, with Mozart prancing on for comic relief. But the play is really a contemplation of mediocrity vs. genius. Over the years since I saw the original Broadway production, the piece has either moved me to tears, or inspired me to do more listening, reading or piano-playing. The Old Globe’s version made me think the play is long and talky, but the look is gorgeous.
Miles Anderson is a compelling Salieri , making a wondrous transition from drooling, mouth-drooping invalid to his conniving younger self. But it’s Jay Whitaker’s Mozart who steals our hearts – and the show. I missed the master’s music, which plays too minor a role at too low a volume, in this production, helmed by Shakespeare Festival artistic director Adrian Noble.
Proceeding from the sublime to the ridiculous, if the F-bomb is music to your ears, you’ll hotfoot it to the 10th Avenue Theatre to catch a new play by a new company, “The Break-up Break-down,” created and performed by Circle Circle dot dot . Like a drugged-up, hyper-emotional contemporary version of Mozart, it’s puerile and obscene, without the musical genius, though a few of the 11 energetic cast members do sing nicely. This premiere is an adolescent romp about the end of relationships, drawn from the company’s personal experiences, replete with silhouetted sexual positions and perversions. There are a few good lines, and a handful of laughs, but it’s too effin long, with too many effin similar responses to relationship failure.
Which brings us back to the theme of genius vs. mediocrity. Choose your music to wallow in: “The Marriage of Figaro” or “ Breakin ’ Up is Hard to Do .”
“The Breakup Breakdown” runs through July 11, at the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown.
“Amadeus ” runs outdoors at the Old Globe in Balboa Park, in repertory with “Amadeus” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” through September 22.
©2011 PAT LAUNER