The Illusion by Pierre Corneille, adapted by Tony Kushner (excerpts) at Berkshire Theater Festival
In Tony Kushner's adaptation of Pierre Corneille's play The Illusion we are asked to accept the comic reality that a man, desperate to know the fate of his long-lost son, would accept the word of a hostile and over-bearing magician that his son has roamed the world altering his identity at will and ending up dead at the hand of his miserable wife. Oddly enough, we do. And that's the ultimate joke in a funny, quirky play performed in an oddly quirky manner by a troop of young actors from around the country who make up the core of the theater company's second, and resident, company.
If you like your theater humorous, the playwright(s) give you laugh lines. If you like your shows to be active and/or action-packed there's the terrific sword fight and scuffle in Act One coached by Fight Director Tony Simotes, and the murder scenes in Act Two. If you are into Kabuki Theater you may find the pentultimate scenes to your taste as two of our leads take on one another in a very emotional scene with syncrhonized motion, backbends and airlifts. In short, there's a little bit of everything for everyone.
The prelude, with brilliant original music and sound by Andrew Skomorowsky and superb illusionary lighting by Holly Blomquist, should meld right into the play, but instead we had a pause as the artistic director greeted the audience and did the usual commercial for the season. It was the wrong moment for the normal "hello," one which should be postponed to the top of the second act.
What happens in this play will hopefully not happen in your house - no murders, no loss of children, no romantic deaths and no disillusionments. When the truth is revealed about Pridament's son the father suffers from the illusions he has built and the ones that have been built for him. He has been blind to the truth and his disillusionment and its aftermath, are truly what this play is all about.
◊ 05/28/06 ◊
Amadeus by Peter Schaffer at the Berkshire Theatre Festival (excerpts) by J. Peter Bergman
...For today's audiences of the play that film is what they remember. Its changes from the playwright's original intent in his stagework make the play something of a freakshow as it celebrates Salieri, Mozart's musical rival, instead of Mozart. This is a play, not about genius, but about mediocrity dealing with genius. That's very different.
Salieri, in this play, is a petty and jealous man whose soul was tormented by the knowledge that his younger compatriot in composition was more talented, more gifted than he had ever been. His understanding of the born genius is at the root of his inner conflict and that soul-torturing conflagration inspires his plotting. He challenges God - formerly he had thanked God - on the topic of talent. God answers the challenge by making Salieri successful and keeping Mozart on the fringe of true success. God wins the battle, right up to the end. Salieri ultimately commits suicide, but even that act does not change his success ratio - he lives and no one believes his final cries of triumph over his rival Mozart. No one cares enough.
This is good drama, but somehow in its three-hour production of the play, the Berkshire Theatre Festival doesn't make the drama come alive. It looks beautiful in its recreation of the 1700s Viennese court of Emperor Joseph II with a good and functional set by Karl Eigsti and costumes by Olivera Gajic. It sounds lovely with its incorporation of Mozart's music on soundtrack. It is peopled with actors of ability and character and charm, yet not one of them seems to be living in his space. Instead they come across the footlights as puppets playing parts. Those footlights, part of the design by Matthew E. Adelson, create massive shadows that should be threatening but only seem vaguely odd after a while. There is no life on that stage.
Randy Harrison plays Mozart. He is physically vibrant and vocally silly and, at center stage completely in character as the foolhardy young genius fully aware of his capabilities. He is believable, but yet catch him when he's not at the center of the action and he's waiting, visibly waiting for his next Mozart moment.
James Barry and Tom Story as the gossips, the Venticelli, do everything they can to keep the action alive and moving. Director Eric Hill almost never allows them to share space, but keeps them moving or posing at distant ends of the stage, never allowed to be the gossips they are, but merely to act as onstage "offstage voices" and so they cannot bring to life the concept of courtier cretins. The players in the lives of Mozart and Salieri are decently handled by a group of actors who do what they can to keep things real and possible. Stephen Temperley and Bob Jaffe are the best of them. Walter Hudson is the least imperious Emperor I've ever seen and Ron Bagden seems out of place in his costume and wig. Tara Franklin is excellent as Mozart's wife.
Jonathan Epstein as Salieri is the biggest problem on stage. There is no anguish in his soul as he mourns the loss of his own importance, as he laments his lack of talent revealed to him through his understanding of Mozart's genius. There is no reality to his cries of redemption and forgiveness. He is just about as one-note in his performance as Salieri's music is portrayed in the script. As the central figure of the play, the real "Amadeus" the "beloved of God", he just isn't at the top of his game. Perhaps this is the director's biggest failing. He doesn't imbue his musical lord of mediocrity with anything but mediocrity. That doesn't work. Salieri's genius must be revealed at its own level and not submerged in monotone.