‘Amadeus’ shortchanged by its lack of depth

Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” forces us to ask some tough questions of ourselves. How would we react if we were in the presence of budding genius? What if this person were a much younger colleague, and vain, and coarse, and about to make us look second-rate in the eyes of others?

That’s the emotional crisis facing one Antonio Salieri (Steve Rapella) when he meets Wofgang Amadeus Mozart (Griffon Stanton-Ameisen), and you don’t have to be a musician to feel his pain. Salieri bitterly calls himself “the patron saint of mediocrites,” and he’s one of us — well, most of us anyway. We can understand his anger at God for elevating a silly, immature man with unstoppable talent.

The Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s production of the 1998 revised version of the script gets at the core of this disturbing tale. Director Robert Brewer’s take is elegant, fluid and full of visual flourishes. The set (by John Iacovelli), lights (Happy Robey) and costumes (Jessica Culpepper) make late 18th century Vienna a breathtaking place to be. And there are a couple of performances that get under the skin of complicated characters.

The evening is shortchanged, though, by a lack of depth. On one hand, it’s quite entertaining to watch the ever-present Rapella demonstrate his technical virtuosity as an actor. The guy knows how to energize dialogue. But you never feel Rapella go beyond technical gimmickry to genuine, emotional connection. His overstated accent is vaudevillian Eastern Orthodox Jew, and his physical and verbal reactions don’t seem to have anything to do with his heart.

Stanton-Ameisen as Mozart is vocally strained and one-note. Brewer doesn’t make these two characters interesting enough to sustain a second act, and I suspect that’s because not enough probing was done to find out what makes these men tick. Too early you reach a point where there’s nothing new to discover about the play’s people.

Savannah Smith-Thomas, however, throws herself into the role of Mozart’s wife with ease, charm and dramatic power.

Brian Hinson walks away with the show with his pompous, kind, eccentric and likable comic portrayal of Austrian Emperor Joseph II. When Hinson complains that Mozart’s work has “too many notes,” the actor convinces us the character really believes his nonsense. Hinson carries himself with the gait of a man who gained authority before he gained sense.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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