In Peter Shaffer’s absorbing “Amadeus” — running through April 15 at Cinnabar Theater — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s haunting music sparks a jealous rage in his rival, composer Antonio Salieri, who leads the audience along a dark path of machinations and regret. Ambition drives the conservative, pious Salieri into a selfish pact with God. In exchange for his own upright morality of conduct, Salieri expects a dazzling career and a string of compositions crammed with genius. What he ends up with, though his career is successful enough for most men, falls short of his desire for artistic brilliance. It’s enough though, until his life as court composer for the Austrian emperor spins into chaos with the arrival of the exuberant Mozart, a musical wunderkind who manipulates melodies and compositions with the ease of a trapeze artist.
Salieri (Richard Pallaziol) is simultaneously in rapturous love with Mozart’s work and enraged that he himself cannot match it. “He from the ordinary, created legends,” he tells the audience. “I, from legends, created only the ordinary.” As envy devours his sense of self-worth, Salieri comes to believe that God has bestowed his magnificent gifts upon the unworthy, shiftless and youthful Mozart (Aaron Wilton). Paranoia gnaws at Salieri’s soul, eventually causing him to undermine Mozart’s success in a malevolent crusade, in turn propelling his own soul into gradually creeping madness.
Integrating farcical elements with outbursts of passion, Pallaziol’s Salieri captivates with insightful commentary on the “Serenade For Winds, K. 361, 3rd Movement” describing its otherworldly beauty, gazing into the heavens, convinced it is the voice of God speaking through the music. Wilton carries Mozart on a journey from fashionable dandy (who is fond of fart jokes) to a mature artist transforming pain into expression, despite ruination and despair.
Rose Roberts is in her element as Constanza Weber, unashamed of her infatuation with Mozart, throwing herself over tables and into his arms. Worldly comprehension keeps Constanza level-headed, despite compromising situations, and her agony at discovering her husband’s illness, rocking him in her arms, leaves a mournful impression, Mozart’s final Requiem swelling in the background.
The Vienna Court is filled with amusing, pompous nobles, led by a socially awkward Joseph II (Chad Yarish) who smiles and nods his way out of uncomfortable situations, rather than face the consequences, allowing him to be easily manipulated. The large cast of ‘Amadeus’ has been whittled down to a core ensemble, using Shaffer’s revised version exploring the psychological aspects of Salieri’s destructive choices.
Director Jennifer King keeps things focused on the dialogue, rather than creating a flashy production. Inspired by George Saunders’ novel “Lincoln in the Bardo,” set at the cusp of death, examining a life in hindsight, King’s collaboration with scenographer Peter Q. Parish creates an abstract set of rustic drapes, marbled steps, fresco backdrops, and a lone pianoforte — fragments of Salieri’s personality. Specters of his past appear in dramatic silhouette through the lighting design. Spiced with conversations in Italian, glittering coats by Skipper Skeoch, and elegant wig designs by Jolie O’Dell.