Chicago Theatre Review
BoHo Theatre: Musical Menace and Mythology
Sparked by the rumors and stories surrounding the life and death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, prolific playwright Peter Shaffer (Royal Hunt of the Sun, Black Comedy, Lettice and Lovage) followed up his West End and Broadway hit “Equus” with this historically based murder mystery. His 1981 Tony Award-winning wig-and-costume drama was later adapted into an impressive Oscar-winning film. Narrated by Antonio Salieri, the 18th century court composer for Viennese Emperor Joseph II proclaims, within the drama’s first moments, that he not only is responsible for
poisoning Mozart, but that he’s decided to take his own life. Come hell or high water, if not for his artistry then for his notoriety, Salieri wants only to be remembered when he’s gone.
Shaffer explores so many ideas in his play: the art of making art, the destructive power of jealousy, what is means to be labeled genius or mediocre. His treatment of the relationship between these two composers is somewhat based on facts, but is essentially a work of fiction. Scholars have written that while there was probably a fair amount of rivalry between the two composers, there’s little to substantiate the idea that Salieri was responsible either for Mozart’s downfall or his death. Shaffer apparently took considerable artistic license in his portrayal of Amadeus, as well, depicting him as a squealing man-child one minute and a serious, somber composer the next. But a play based entirely upon facts wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.
Peter Marston Sullivan’s elegantly directed production is filled with tension, bawdy humor and minute details. Confined to Stage 773’s modest playing area, Sullivan makes the most of what he has and uses both Patrick Ham’s handsomely designed set and his thirteen talented actors to his advantage.
Steve O’Connell returns to BoHo in the difficult and demanding role of Salieri. To say that this is his show is an understatement, since Salieri both opens and closes the drama, stepping in and out of the play as narrator and main character. Courtly and authoritative, O’Connell has an excellent grasp of his character with all its subtle nuances. This actor’s command of lines and language is surpassed only by his mastery of period acting style, so necessary for the piece to work well. But what’s truly impressive is O’Connell’s ability to make Salieri live as a three-dimensional character.
So impressive in BoHo‘s Fall production of “Veronica’s Room,” Chris Ballou surpasses his previous success here, as Mozart, the play’s most colorful role. With ease Ballou leaps between being a spoiled brat with an obnoxious, high-pitched cackle to being a serious young man devoted to his art. Spoiled, playful and ignorant of personal boundaries as Mozart, this actor’s in command. When O’Connell and Ballou are sharing the stage it’s a veritable battle for the audience’s attention.
Amanda Jane Long, the impressive star of “Veronica’s Room,” has her work cut out for her playing Constanze, Mozart’s frisky, vivacious young wife. She’s got stiff competition among the men in this play, but as the leading lady Ms.Long holds her own. Her journey from coquettish teenager to long-suffering wife of a poor genius is traveled with grace and a determination to survive.
Other standouts in this cast include Russell Alan Rowe ‘s memorable, very affected and melodramatic Strack; Sean Thomas‘ benevolent, no-nonsense Van Swieten; Scott Danielson’s jolly, larger-than-life Rosenberg; and David Tibble’s humorous, often befuddled and subtly underplayed Joseph II. As Salieri’s confidants and gossipmongers, Sasha Hatfield and Jeff Kurysz play the Venticelli with conspiratorial authority, style and just the right amount of sly delight.
Besides a set that is not only utilitarian but looks period-appropriate, Theresa Ham has assembled a breathtaking collection of colorful 18th century brocades and satins in the form of breeches and bodices, waistcoats and wigs, frock coats and farthingales. Because the script calls for Amadeus to be a peacock of fashion, Ms. Ham has provided Ballou with the most spectacular costumes on stage. Thanks to Matthew Tibbs’ meticulous sound design, ghostly echoes ricochet around the room, while both composers convince that they’re playing their own music (although three talented musicians from Ball State are credited with actually playing harpsichord). And Megan Turnquist nicely creates the bright lighting of the Vienna court, as well as the shadowy specters whispering gossip and accusations everywhere.
BoHo Theatre impresses with another contemporary classic that supports their mission to bring truth, beauty, freedom and love to its stage. In this witty, intelligent, first-rate production of Peter Shaffer’s psychological thriller, laced with humor and thoughtful philosophy, Peter Marston Sullivan presents yet another exquisite production that should be on everyone’s must-see list.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 14-March 16 by BoHo Theatre at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-327-5252 or by going to their website at www.BoHoTheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com