everybody’s a critic.(c) BK
Epstein shines as a bitter Salieri
By MICHAEL ECK, Special to the Times Union
First published: Sunday, June 25, 2006

STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. -- I would pay good money to see Jonathan Epstein
in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

Luckily, I don't have to. One of the perks of being a theater critic
is that you usually don't have to pay for tickets. And one hopes that
Epstein would never feel the need to take on the round-headed role of
the young Mr. Brown.

But it would be good, if he did. I'm sure of it.

Instead Epstein is playing Antonio Salieri in Eric Hill's production
of Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus" at Berkshire Theatre Festival.

It's a magnificent portrayal; truly worth the price of admission on
its own.

I'm quite positive other people were onstage with Epstein, I just
don't know if I can recall them.

In Shaffer's play, Antonio Salieri, court composer for Joseph II of
Vienna, rails at heaven for giving his nemesis, Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart, the talent he desires.

"My quarrel was never with Mozart," he says, "but with God."

He gives 10 years of his life to this bitter struggle, and another
three decades following Mozart's death in 1791.

One feels in Epstein's performance the weight of those years, the
sting of Salieri's shame and the obliterating force of the
character's own self-proclaimed mediocrity.

Epstein turns half a man into a tower.

It's cliche to say one actor can do more with his eyebrows than
another can with his entire body, but Epstein breathes life into that
saw. His grimaces in the first few minutes of Friday's opening spoke
volumes; his simple act of picking up a sweet off a tray painted a
broken life.

As noted, there were other people on the stage (I think).

Randy Harrison, who appeared in BTF's production of Shaffer's "Equus"
last season, fares much better here as Mozart.

He dives into the character's libertine ways with a laugh that's lost
and uproarious at the same time -- in other words, right on target.

Still, he does not quite seem the force of nature that the sсript
asks for.

A large ensemble surrounds the sparring composers, with strong work
from Tara Franklin as Constanze Weber and Ron Bagden as Baron
Gottfried van Swieten.

Hill is a fine director, heavily influenced by Tadashi Suzuki. He
uses movement, rhythm and sound to surround the action. Even when the
scenes are realistic there is a heightened edge, and occasionally,
gloriously, Hill simply eschews realism altogether.

He is helped by a crack design team, including Matthew E. Adelson,
whose lighting seems scored, rather than programmed.

In one defining moment Adelson magically merges Salieri and Mozart's
shadows, with the latter seeming to swallow the former.

It is the play in microcosm.

When Epstein finishes this run of "Amadeus" he will begin preparing
for his next role at BTF, in the one-man show Via Dolorosa (which
plays Aug. 30 to Oct. 21).

I, for one, can't wait.

Michael Eck, a freelance writer from Albany, is a regular contributor
to the Times Union.

Theater review


Performance reviewed: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Berkshire Theatre Festival, Main Street, Stockbridge, Mass.

Running Time: 3 hours, 20 minutes; one intermission

Continues: 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; matinees, 2 p.m. Thursday
and Saturday; through July 8

Tickets: $43-$59Information: (413) 298-5576

Web site:


" ... engrossing, soul-shattering, multifaceted."
June 23, 2006 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall.

Amadeus by Peter Shaffer
Directed by Eric Hill
With Jonathan Epstein and Randy Harrison
Opens: June 23
Postscript: June 26 Closes: July 8

Berkshire Theatre Festival |
P.O. Box 797, Stockbridge, MA 01262
Administration Offices: 413-298-5536; FAX:413-298-3368

It is hard to untangle the many strands of genius that flood the stage during
the seemingly short three hours that Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus takes to unfold,
gloriously, as the opening play of the Berkshire Theatre Festival's 2006 season.

So much of the production is beguiling that it is almost impossible to pin-point
who is responsible for this magnificent production.

Director Eric Hill freezes his characters into dynamic stage pictures, drawing
on his skills with Suzuki technique, and playwright Shaffer has written the
static moments that call for such skills. Reading the play one can visualize
them, but Hill’s spacing and placing, from the angle of character’s wrist to the
positioning of the ensemble, are his own, graphic and startlingly right.
The cast in Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Main Stage production of Amadeus. Photo
by Kevin Sprague.

He is on the mark in his casting of the two antagonists, the diabolical but
strangely appealing Salieri (Jonathan Epstein) and the leaping, mercurial Mozart
(Randy Harrison).

Shaffer has written truly great roles for his two leads and in this production
they are played greatly.

Salieri frames the play as narrator, old and near death and finally, unbelieved,
eager to declare his guilt. In the dramatic scenes from the past that form the
body of the play, he at first only distains the upstart crow, Mozart. He
declines to believe that the God to whom he has promised to offer his own
supposed genius could betray him.

But as he comes more and more to distrust his own gifts, despite worldly
success, and to be forced to see Mozart possesses magic that he Salieri has been
denied, his machinations to destroy Mozart become more and more diabolical. By
the play's end he has not only destroyed his rival but has lost all faith in his
own pact with a redeemer whom he finally judges not to exist at all.

Harrison gives us a Mozart capable at one moment of being revolting (if funny)
in his vulgarity, and in the next moment being forgiven because of the pure and
perfect music that wells up beneath, behind, and above his shenanigans. One
loves him as one deplores him, and an essential child-like goodness radiates
beneath his vulgarity. He accepts his genius as a given, even though in his
adult years few believe in it.

As his young wife Constanza, Tara Franklin, in a secondary role, is versatile
from her first bawdy entrance as a mousy-wousy pursued by Mozart, through her
gallant defense of his music and sharing of his poverty, to her final role of
almost-mother, cradling the dying boy-man in her arms. She is especially
effective in the scene where, to help Mozart, she shames Salieri in his
seduction plot.

All in the supporting cast are strong and effective, many playing several roles
and all serving as scene changers with efficiency. All have obviously enjoyed
some Suzuki training, evident especially in certain mute, but vital,

The play is engrossing, soul-shattering, multifaceted. The first act has the
audience aroar with laughter at Mozart’s caprices and Salieri’s discomfort.

But in Act II, as Salieri’s hate for Mozart (and for God who seems to have
betrayed him) deepens, the audience is totally silent. No one coughs, whispers,
rattles a program; all just listen in a stunned awe as the music deepens and
subtle light-changes color the background until all is blood-red and shadow
patterns weave the background. Designer Matthew E. Adelson must have employed
every key on his light board and every light hanging from the ceiling.

And in this play which demands intricate, sometimes brief, notes on a piano and
at other times long background selections of Mozart’s glorious music, sound
designer Nathan Leigh has scored the play well. Karl Eigsi has designed the
gilt-edged 18th century, two procenium set called for by the sсript with a
meticulous eye for detail, as has Olivera Gajic for the period costumes.

As narrator and villain, Epstein orchestrates the play, vainly insisting, for no
one will believe him, that he is indeed a murderer, abandoned by God. He begs
for a forgiveness that he was unable to ask of Mozart, even as the Requiem
sounded in his ears.

There is great irony in the play. The mediocre Salieri gains honor and fame, but
knows he never possesses genius, while Mozart, every gene in his body quivering
with genius, dies feeling a failure, unable to make the world listen.

This play is so rich in so many ways and presented with such insight and talent
that I wish it were possible to see it several more times during its too-brief
run in Stockbridge. But seeing this production once has been a memorable
experience and one I urge you to share. This is a play you will have hard time


"The Patron Saint of Mediocrity"
By Peter Bergman

When a playwright wins an award for his work it generally means
that the work is special. Peter Shaffer won every award for his play
about composer Antonio Salieri, Amadeus, including the Tony Award,
Outer Critics Circle Award, Evening Standard Drama Award and the
British Theater Critics Award. For his screenplay Shaffer also won an
Academy Award. That screenplay has now become a problem in any new
production of the play. Written six years after the play premiered it
took Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as its central character. 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

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. Roles cut
from the film almost completely, they enlighten us with their
perspective on the off-stage movement of careers and personal lives
that we do not see. They are the rhythm of the play, the drumbeat of
the prose. 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 sсript. 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.


By Elyse Sommer

One of the numerous stunning tableaus in the Berkshire Theater Festival's revival of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)

Jonathan Epstein & Randy Harrison as Salieri and Mozart in Amadeus.
(Photo: Kevin Sprague )
Last summer, The Berkshire Theatre Festival revived one of Peter Shaffer's two best known plays, Equus. Now the Festival has launched it's 78th season with Shaffer's even more wildly successful Amadeus, a mystery-melodrama that feels biographical but is the playwright's own take on the rumors swirling around composer Antonio Salieri's envy-driven plot to destroy the younger and more talented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Randi Harrison, who played the mysteriously passionate and troubled Alan Strang at the center of Equus, is back, this time as Mozart during the last ten years of his all too brief life. For all their differences, these plays have much in common. As Salieri, disdains the bumpkin-like behavior of Mozart even as he recognizes and envies his genius, so the psychiatrist treating young Strang in Equus, finds that the boy's wild passion stir feelings of inadequacy and, yes, envy.
Both revivals are testaments to theater as a fluid rather than a frozen art and how directors can give revivals of a play exciting new visual and thematic interpretations without changing the basic text. And, while there are authors (or their executors) who insist on their plays being mounted exactly as written, many welcome fresh interpretations and often view their texts as works in progress, rewriting them from production to production. David Hare (whose one person play Via de la Rosa concludes the BTF season) made numerous changes in Stuff Happens between its production in London and the more recent one at New York's Public Theater. Tom Stoppard has announced that his mammoth Coast of Utopia will be different and less mammoth when it comes to Lincoln Center.

Peter Shaffer is another case in point. The Amadeus I saw in 1999 on Broadway and last Friday night in Stockbridge use a text that's been altered since the play's 1980 to 1983 run at the Broadhurst Theater. The story is the same but the focus is much more on the embittered kappelmeister's relationship to God.

While Shaffer used bits and pieces from Mozart's life, this is a work of imagination. Essentially it's Salieri's story, a flashback by the dying composer to his ten years of dealing with the realization that all his worldly success is meaningless when compared to those of Mozart, the socially inept boy-man. Salieri's envious rage takes the form of a decade of spiteful acts. Though Mozart is his victim, the embittered composer's real battle is with the God who has given him dubious gift of being the only one in his time to recognize Mozart's greatness. In fighting that battle Salieri destroys himself as well as Mozart (the man -- but not his music).

With its large ensemble, Amadeus is a good choice for BTF as it gives many of its summer interns a chance to be on stage. But, of course, the parts affording the most scenery chewing opportunities belong to the actors playing the two composers.

Jonathan Epstein, best known in this area for his work as one of Shakespeare & Company's leading character actors, struck me as an ideal choice to star as this production's Salieri. He indeed ably shifts from wry irony and Machiavellan duplicity to agonized fury and is a commanding presence from the moment he rises from his wheelchair to exchange a Turkish cap for a wig to help him shed the forty years needed to play the thirty-one-year-old establishment favorite. He walks in and out of the flashback scenes with an apt air of disdain. It would be unfair to carp about the usually high octane actor's somewhat subdued performance since he was clearly struggling with a heavy cold on opening night -- and doing so with bravura the-show-must-go-on spirit.

I would have liked to see director Eric Hill reign in Randy Harrison's excessive scatological playfulness with his Constanze (the appealing Tara Franklin), and focus a bit more on his unflagging belief in his musical gifts and the fascinating snippets about how a piece of music evolves. No complaints about Mr. Hill's stunning staging, as usual influenced by his Suzuki training. The original upstage light box design that gave the audience a peek of the stuffy, conformist 18th Century court life from Salieri's further downstage 19th century view is now a painted scrim in an ornate frame. This scrim as well as some sheer blue curtains open and close for some breathtaking tableaus of members of the court of Emperor Joseph II (Walter Hudson).

The Emperor's short attention span (even Mozart's most gorgeous music can't overcome his constant unwillingness to listen to something that he declares has &quo;too many notes") and his assorted courtiers' preference for what's safe and familiar (meaning Salieri's music) bring newly relevant reminders of our current President as well as the bottom-line producers who control today's theater.

The various courtiers include Stephen Temperley, who is also the playwright (his delightful Souvenir made a BTF stop on its way to Broadway last summer and a new play, The Pilgrim Papers will be at BTF's Unicorn next month) and Bob Jaffee, another double hat wearer (he adapted and starred in a Beckett anthology and then you go on a few BTF seasons ago). Ron Bagden, an actor I've seen and admired elsewhere, seems under used as the only member of the court who sees Mozart as a breath of fresh air but does little to help him.

Unfortunately, there are times when everyone seems to spend too much time standing around (okay, I know that's what people in this kind of setup do, but in this case it tends to make an already overly long play seem even longer). However, whenever things tend to move at a too leisurely pace, along comes the gossipy two-man chorus known as Venticilli 1 (Tom Story ) and Venticilli 2 (James Barry) with another "I can't believe it" sequence to enliven things -- not to mention, to remind you that it's gossip not hard historical evidence that drives Shaffer's assumptions about what happened between these composers.

A not to be overlooked star contributor to this production is Matthew E. Adelson. His subtle lighting at one point creates an unforgettable dual vision of the two composers, with Mozart's shadow appearing to eradicate Salieri's.

If Amadeus leaves you yearning for a full evening of Mozart, you don't have far to go or long to wait. On July 5th, the Berkshire Opera Company (413-442-9953) is presenting a one night Mozart Birthday celebration at the Mahawe Performing Arts center, featuring local diva Maureen O'Flynn and others.

To read my review of the 1999 Broadway production of Amadeus go here . Finally, a trivia question: Who played Salieri's prize pupil Katherina Cavalieri in the movie version? Answer: Christine Ebersole, the same Christine whose WOW performance in Grey Gardens, helped to propel this musical adaptation of the documentary about two impoverished, quirky Jackie Kennedy cousins to a Broadway booking for next fall.

Amadeus br> Playwright: Peter Shaffer
Director: Eric Hill Cast: Jonathan Epstein as Antonio Salieri and Randy Harrison as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Also Ron Bagden as Baron Gottfried van Swieten, James Barry as Venticelli One, Tara Franklin as Constanze Weber, Walter Hudson as Emperor Joseph II, Bob Jaffe as Count Johann Kilian von Strack, Tom Story as Venticelli Two and Stephen Temperley as Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg
Set Design: Karl Eigsti
Costume Design: Olivera Gajic
Lighting Designer: Matthew E. Adelson
Sound Design: Nathan Leigh
Movement Direction: Eric Hill
Additional Movement: Isadora Wolfe
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours with an intermission
Main Stage, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, MA 413-298-5576 or
From June 20 to July 8; opening June 23.
Monday through Saturday evenings at 8pm with matinees at 2pm on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Tickets: $37 to $64. Students with valid ID receive fifty percent discount.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on June 23rd press opening.


Review by Seth Rogovoy, critic-at-large, Berkshire Living

AMADEUS by Peter Shaffer
June 20-July 8

Directed by Eric Hill
Starring Jonathan Epstein as Salieri and Randy Harrison as Mozart

The Berkshire Theatre Festival kicks off its 2006 Main Stage season
with a bang with a most appropriate production of AMADEUS in this
250th anniversary year of Mozart's birth. But more than that, the
Peter Shaffer play celebrates the art of theater itself, and is given
a production that emphasizes the theatrical conceit, the complicity
between the audience and the actors, and underlines the themes of the
play itself -- the notion of creativity as a spiritual undertaking or

These are themes that were closely aligned to those explored in last
year's BTF production of EQUUS, also by Shaffer and also featuring
Randy Harrison, but here they are forefronted in the staging,
lighting, costumes, and Shaffer's very neo-Brechtian sсript.

Fortunately, any awkwardness brought about by Shaffer's clunky
efforts to implicate the audience in the play's action are smoothed
over and even made graceful by the stellar cast and crew assembled
for this production. The lion's share of the credit goes to Jonathan
Epstein, whose commanding, dynamic presence and maturity is tailor-
made for the role of the envious Salieri, the court composer who at
any other time would have been considered a top-notch artist, but in
comparison to the upstart prodigy Mozart is destined to be seen, by
others and most heartbreakingly by himself, as a professional

Thus is Salieri plunged into anguish and torment, railing largely
against the God he believed in but whom he now curses.

In spite of the name of this play, the story is Salieri's, and
Salieri himself tells it. The entire play, in fact, is framed by
Salieri's direct address to the audience, breaking the fourth wall,
acknowledging that what is about to take place is a play, even to the
point of having the house lights turned on -- just one of many times
throughout the evening that Matthew E. Adelson's evocative lighting
design does as much as any other element to aid the telling of the

From the beginning the drama is heightened by the delayed entrance of
Mozart, whom we keep hearing about but don't meet until nearly a half
hour into the play. When we finally meet him, it's very much through
Salieri's eyes, eavesdropping on a salacious, scatalogical tryst he's
having with his wife-to-be. Those familiar with Timothy Hulce's
portrayal of Mozart in the film version of AMADEUS will recognize
many of the same behevioral tics and characteristics -- the high-
pitched squeal of delighted laughter, the obsession with flatulence
and elimination -- but Randy Harrison puts his own stamp on the
characterization of Mozart, as an outwardly devilish, fun-loving
individualist who sees through so much of the hypocrtical formality
of the old feudal order in its waning days. That same impulse to
overthrow the old order, to shake things up, runs through his music,
we will learn.

After observing Mozart up close, Salieri concludes that "goodness is
nothing in the furnace of art," and thus rids himself of his self-
imposed virtue in a sort of Faustian attempt to gain prominence
through other means. The lighting grows dark and moody as Mozart's
fortunes wane while Salieri's wax, seemingly succeeding at having
gained through deceit and manipulation what he could not by other
more honest means.

Epstein's challenge is complicated, as he needs to go back and forth
from narrating the story as an elderly mjan at the end of his life --
maybe at the end of his rope -- and then revert to acting in the
moment, learning what it is that we have already seen him know. Few
actors could have pulled this off with such commanding authority, and
it's hard to imagine a single performance later this season rising to
the level of Epstein's.

Harrison hits all the right notes as the exuberant, insouciant
Mozart. His is a very outward-based performance, which works for the
most part, as the sсript emphasizes the brash outwardness of his
character and relies on our knowledge of his music to convince of his
inner genius. The two were at odds in the second half, however, when
Harrison is given a big speech about the role of opera and music,
it's a funny and dynamic speech, but also a serious one, and here was
the moment when we could have been given a glimpse into the inner,
deeper Mozart, but Harrison came up short, seeming a little
unconvincing, or rather, unconvinced in his internal commitment to
what he was saying. One can easily imagine, however, that over the
course of the run of the play Harrison will grow more comfortable
with this soliloquy, and find the inner depths that as of opening
night were still elusive to the actor as well as the audience.

The supporting cast also hit all the right notes, led by Walter
Hudson's pitch-perfect, clueless ruler, Joseph II. His sycophantic
court were all duly servile yet each brought something unique to
their roles.

The play looked and sounded terrific (kudos also to sound designer
Nathan Leigh), and it's hard to lose with an evening of Mozart
brought to life by characters from his time. This most theatrical of
plays, a musical without music, a theater work about art and
creativity, sets the bar high for the rest of BTF's mainstage season,
as well as that of all the Berkshire summer theater festivals.

BTF's AMADEUS is an incredibly entertaining, funny, musical night at
the theater that reminds us why we need theater to answer the most
important questions about how we live our lives.

--Seth Rogovoy, Berkshire Living, critic-at-large

(Berkshire Theater Festival, Stockbridge, Mass.; 415 seats; $64 top)

A Berkshire Theater Festival presentation of a play in two acts by
Peter Shaffer. Directed by Eric Hill.

Antonio Salieri - Jonathan Epstein
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Randy Harrison
Constanze Weber - Tara Franklin
Joseph II - Walter Hudson
Baron van Swieten - Ron Bagden
Count von Strack - Bob Jaffe
Count Orsini-Rosenberg - Stephen Temperly
Venticelli One - Tom Story
Venticelli Two - James Barry

You would think that, faced with a choice between a genius composer
who speaks for God and a musical hack, there would be no contest. But
Peter Shaffer's "Amadeus" stacks the deck, giving his protagonist
Antonio Salieri the irresistibility of an ordinary Everyman evolving
into evil. Jonathan Epstein's perf is as delicious as the brandied
chestnuts his character savors in this summer season opener in the
Massachusetts Berkshires.
It may be the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, but it's Salieri
Day in Stockbridge in this sharp and stylish production, helmed by
Eric Hill. At the center of it all is Epstein's narrator-protagonist,
a devout, hard-working and generous man who made it to the position
of Viennese court composer.

When upstart prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Randy Harrison) arrives
on the scene,his staggering musical gifts are evident only to
Salieri, who in recognizing Mozart's greatness bitterly realizes his
own mediocrity.

Epstein displays all the icy charm of a compassionate conservative,
all the cold-hearted management skills of a corporate climber, all
the cool PR know-how to seemingly support while actually stifling the
new kid on the block. Salieri's piety turns poisonous as he works
behind the scenes to keep Mozart down, manipulating the tone-deaf
courtiers and the simpleton emperor (marvelously played by Walter
Hudson). Though Salieri fails at seducing the composer's young wife
(Tara Franklin), he succeeds with priest-like guile in playing Mozart
like a Stradivarius.

After starring in Berkshire Theater Festival's "Equus" last year,
Harrison returns with another Shaffer battle between man and his
god/gods, giving Mozart a vibrant physicality, energy and joy. The
virtuosity is so overwhelming it cannot be contained in his body:
Harrison jumps, skips, kicks and practically levitates onstage as he
gets carried away with his music -- as well as his libido.

But Harrison's scatological man-child is oddly endearing, too. He is
playful more than petulant, passionate about music (even if it is
just his own), with a chastened boy's regret in knowing he has gone
too far. His second-act decline is rich in emotional detail, with
just the right modulated sparks from his former self to buoy his last
gasps of genius.

Shaffer's highly theatrical and confessional conceit provides one
juicy scene after another and remains engaging for the audience.

But just as Mozart was criticized by the emperor for having "too many
notes," Shaffer's melodramedy -- especially in act two -- suffers
from having too many words, or at least repeating its themes,
detailing court history and chronicling Mozart's many falls to a
fault with one aria after another. The puckish coda, however, offers
the right grace note for the play.

Production values are enviable for a summer staging, with veteran
designer Karl Eigsti's handsome set serving the play as well as the
period with a smart framing device, enhanced by Matthew E. Adelson's
lighting that illuminates the court's splendor as well as its shadowy
intrigues. Olivera Gajic's costumes don't scrimp on the petticoats,
ruffles and wigs.

Only the thin sound system undercuts the need to experience the
grandeur and beauty of the music at its fullest.

Sets, Karl Eigsti; costumes, Olivera Gajic; lighting, Matthew E.
Adelson; sound, Nathan Leigh; production stage manager, Jason
Hindelang. Opened June 23, 2006. Reviewed June 24. Runs through July
8. Running time: 3 HOURS.

With: Robin E. Cannon, Travis G. Daly, Joshua Davis, Aaron Costa
Ganis, Mac Morris, Sara Oliva, Meg Wieder.


Genius and the voice of God
Theater Review, By Jeffrey Borak Berkshire Eagle Staff
Tuesday, June 27

STOCKBRIDGE — At the age of 16, Antonio Salieri — as posited by Peter
Shaffer in his play "Amadeus," which is opening Berkshire Theatre
Festival's 78th season in theatrically and intellectually lush
fashion — strikes a bargain with God. In return for making him a
composer and granting him "sufficient fame to enjoy it," Salieri
pledges to live a virtuous and compassionate life and to honor God
with his own music. The very next day, an opportunity presents itself
out of the blue. Interpreting this opportunity as God's response,
Salieri sets off to Vienna to study music. He eventually catches the
favor of Emperor Joseph II and rises to popularity and prominence in
the court, where he becomes Court Composer and, eventually,
At the same time Salieri arrives in Vienna to begin his studies, a 10-
year-old prodigy named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is traveling through
Europe playing, composing, gathering a reputation which precedes him
as he makes his way to Vienna.

For Salieri, music is a means to an end, a service.

"We were learned servants," Salieri says of this peers. "And we used
our learning to celebrate average men's lives. We took unremarkable
men ... and sacramentalized their mediocrity."

Salieri (Jonathan Epstein) sets out to keep his pledge to God. He
tutors, he composes music that is workmanlike, mediocre, as ordinary
and average as the audience his music is meant to serve. But when
Salieri hears Mozart's music for the first time, he realizes that God
has not kept faith with him. Salieri hears God's voice in Mozart's
music. He is the only one in Joseph's court who understands the
genius of Mozart's work and finds it impossible that God would create
such genius in a man as reckless, foul and raw as Mozart.

Where Salieri is measured, reasoned, dutiful, someone who plays by
the rules, Mozart is pure passion — impetuous, impulsive, childish as
well as childlike, scatalogical in his language, a libertine. But his
artistic soul ...

"I bet you that's how God hears the world," Mozart says with the fire
of discovery. "Millions of sounds ascending all at once and mixing in
His ear to become an unending music, unimaginable to us.

"That's our job ... we composers, to combine the inner minds of him
and him and him, and her and her — the thoughts of chambermaids and
Court Composers, and turn the audience into God."

Betrayed by God, Salieri decides to block God on earth by using his
influence to block Mozart in the emperor's court and destroy him.

"Amadeus" is, in many ways, a lumbering, cumbersome work, especially
as it moves deep into its second act. But in the hands of Epstein,
Harrison, and director Eric Hill, "Amadeus" is as richly entertaining
as it is thought provoking.

Hill's direction is focused and, despite this play's layers, lean.
His production flows with cinematic ease and balletic grace. This is
a study in light and dark; manners and mannerism, on the one hand,
raw passion and boundary-breaking on the other.

Hill has placed Epstein and Harrison at the center of a fine ensemble
of young artists and BTF veterans — chief among them, Tara Franklin
as Mozart's wife, Constanze, Walter Hudson as the Emperor Joseph II,
Stephen Temperley as Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg, director of the
Imperial Opera, and James Barry as one of the two Venticelli who
attend Salieri and feed his angst ... for a price.

As Mozart, Harrison more than rises to Shaffer's occasion in a richly
passionate, often touching portrayal that knows its boundaries even
when Mozart does not.

Epstein commands respect even when he is at less than peak form.
Here, however, he is in full command of his art and his craft in a
role for which he clearly seems to have been destined. His shifts in
Salieri's age are smoothly achieved — a seamless shift in timbre, his
physical rhythm (never have I seen Epstein so nimble on stage).
Sometimes the shift is in no more than a breath.

Spitting fury and contempt, Epstein's Salieri is self-protective,
sardonic, bitter. He is hobbled by a complex blend of confusion,
envy, admiration, and resentment.

Salieri is a man of modest and mediocre musical talents, a country
Catholic ill-equipped to deal with the nuances of the court. At the
same time, he is a man of wit whose face-to-face encounter with his
mediocrity is as affecting and poignant as it is absurd and laughable.

Salieri might well have appreciated the irony. His mediocrity shines
in Epstein's prodigious talent.


Command performance
A mesmerizing Salieri shines in 'Amadeus'
By Louise Kennedy, Globe Staff | June 30, 2006

STOCKBRIDGE -- If you're anything like me, you looked at the opening
title for Berkshire Theatre Festival's mainstage season and thought,
``Hmm, `Amadeus.' Do I really need to see that again?" Well, yes, you
do. First of all, Eric Hill's beautifully conceived and brilliantly
executed production of Peter Shaffer's Tony-winning play provides
three hours of purely theatrical experience. The effects it achieves
will be new to those who know ``Amadeus" only from the 1984 film, for
they are ones that only live theater can give: the effortless flow of
idea and movement, the synthesis of live speech and living image, the
old-fashioned magic of people making a story breathe.
Hill uses Karl Eigsti's elegant set to maximum effect, one moment
arranging artful tableaux of sumptuously costumed Viennese courtiers
within a giant gilt frame, the next setting the characters whirling
through a central space defined by faux-stone columns, and the next
shrinking the focus down to a single figure crouched in a chair. All
of this is aided immeasurably by Matthew E. Adelson's complex but
unostentatious lighting, with its virtuosic use of color, intensity,
and shadow to lead our eyes exactly where Hill wants them to go.

Mostly, where they go is to the central figure: not Mozart, though
Randy Harrison plays him with wonderfully elfin vulgarity and vigor,
but Jonathan Epstein's towering portrayal of Antonio Salieri, the
``patron saint of mediocrity" whose envy and fury at God's apparent
favoring of his rival composer are Shaffer's chief concern. If for
nothing else, this ``Amadeus" was worth staging as a showcase for
Epstein's absolute mastery of his art.

The fascinating question, as you watch him use every modulation of
voice and every variation of facial expression at his considerable
command, is how someone can be at once so utterly theatrical and
utterly persuasive. Epstein's Salieri is not ``realistic"; he speaks
theatrical language, uses theatrical gestures, takes greedy theatrical
bites of a sticky theatrical pastry. His every sniff is staged. And
yet he is completely, convincingly real. By the top of the second act,
when Salieri says, ``You must understand me, not forgive," the only
possible response is , ``Yes, we do."

All this leaves aside the old issue of whether Shaffer played too fast
and loose with musical history in painting Mozart as a potty-mouthed
child and Salieri as a malignant manipulator. I'd have to guess that
he did, but I'd also have to say that, watching Epstein and Harrison
playing off each other and the rest of the excellent cast, I didn't
much care.

These are Shaffer's Mozart and Salieri, not history's, and what they
may fail to tell us about historical truth they more than make up for
in emotional and moral truth.

To see the play of emotions across Epstein's face as Salieri hears
Mozart's music for the first time is to sense the torments of
aesthetic ecstasy, professional jealousy, and personal despair that
this merely competent composer must have felt in the presence of raw
genius. ``Agonizing delight," Shaffer has him call it later, and we nod.

In every quivering smile that becomes a sneer, every tear concealed by
a scowl, every rage and whisper and croaking prayer, Epstein has
already shown us all the depths of agony, and of delight, that
``Amadeus" wants us to know.


Metroland Magazine (Albany, NY) June 29, 2006
The Tragic Touch By Ralph Hammann


By Peter Shaffer, directed by Eric Hill

Berkshire Theatre Festival, through July 8

Last year in a review of the Berkshire Theatre Festival's production
of Peter Shaffer's Equus, directed by Scott Schwartz, I wrote, "It
would have been exciting to see what vigorous direction Eric Hill
might have brought to this piece, which is clearly not ideal stomping
ground for Schwartz." The answer is that the BTF's former flirtation
with Shaffer has become romance under Hill's sure-footed direction.

As in that earlier play, Shaffer is again trying to find a modern
means of locating the tragic forces in a world where the Gods have
become the gods and man's epic struggles with them have been
supplanted by less- cathartic battles with computer freezes and
heating bills. It has been argued that tragedy, in the classic sense,
is dead in the modern world. Irony, absurdity, leaders like George
Bush and bad productions of Shakespeare would seem to have dealt the
mortal blows. Fortunately though, writers like Arthur Miller and
Shaffer have kept the tragic sense alive even when, in the case of
Amadeus, it is couched in a melodrama.

As in Equus, Shaffer (like Miller) is concerned with the plight of
rather-more- common beings than the giants of Sophocles. Amadeus
takes its title from one of its principle characters, Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart, but its true protagonist is Antonio Salieri, musical
advisor to Frederick II, emperor of Austria. Until Mozart bursts into
the Viennese court, it is Salieri who is the star composer despite
the fact that his music is at the ochre end of mediocre. However,
whatever talent he lacks as a composer, Shaffer's Salieri is cursed
with a superb musical ear that makes him both recognize and resent
Mozart's genius. Worsening Salieri's situation is Mozart's childish
and frequently coarse behavior. To be in the company of an artist who
is so gifted and uncouth, Salieri takes personally as an insult from

The compelling action of the play is Salieri's attempt to redress God
by destroying Mozart. But Salieri is not a simple villain; he has a
conscience, and therein lies the tragedy - if the production has a
strong Salieri. It is little surprise that the BTF strikes no false
notes with Jonathan Epstein in that role. Epstein rises to the
challenge of playing the villainous and self-tormented character just
as the audience rises in appreciation of this consummate actors'

What does surprise is that Epstein is not thrilling in the role.
While far better than F. Murray Abraham in the egregious, watered-
down film version, Epstein doesn't plumb the depths nor find the
majesty that David Suchet did in the 2000 Broadway revival. Where
Suchet commanded the stage and subtly inhabited Salieri, Epstein
holds the stage in a performance that seems a bit studied at times.

What also surprises in Eric Hill's customary vital direction is a
merciful shift in how Mozart is presented. With Randy Harrison in the
role, we are finally given a Mozart who, despite his vulgarities, is
likeable, charming and believable. While the childish laugh (that
became a trademark of all the Mozarts I have seen portrayed in
Amadeus) is still there, it is silly without becoming caricaturishly
annoying. Even though his Mozart speaks most of the same words as
actors before him, Harrison makes us both hear and feel them. And
with a more dimensional Mozart, Salieri's action has far more
consequence. Here he not only destroys a musical genius, but also a
flesh-and-blood man as opposed to a braying jackass begging to be put
out of our misery.

From Tara Franklin's comely Constanze Weber to Walter Hudson's obtuse
Emperor to Bob Jaffe's angular Count, the supporting cast is
uniformly strong and, courtesy of Olivera Gajic's sumptuous costumes,
variedly colorful. Karl Eigsti's appropriately heavy set is lit
perhaps a bit too brightly by Matthew E. Alderson and makes too
frequent use of fully opening and closing white curtains.


Back Stage The Actor's Resource
Review: 'Amadeus'
July 06, 2006 By Michael Eck

Antonio Salieri, if we believe playwright Peter Shaffer, yearned for
immortality. And he got it -- just not on his own terms.

Jonathan Epstein, as Salieri in the Berkshire Theatre Festival
production of Shaffer's Amadeus, plays this paragon of mediocrity, the
man who may have murdered Mozart, as a towering figure -- a
characterization in keeping with Shaffer's vision of Salieri as a man
at war with heaven. "My quarrel was not with Mozart, but with God,"
the character explains.

His portrayal is also flat-out brilliant. Epstein has spent many years
ensconced in the Berkshires at Shakespeare & Company, but his recent
work with BTF has allowed him to explore a greater variety of roles,
and he's clearly relishing the challenge. He opens the play in a
wheelchair, a tired old man raging at time and history. But he is
transformed as he steps back a few years to find himself at the court
of Austria's Joseph II, seemingly on trial, with his belabored
compositions being judged against the shimmering elegance even of
Mozart's tossed-off ditties. Epstein dons a wig to become the younger
Salieri, in full view of the audience, but it's not simply a change of
costume. It's a profound metamorphosis, and the actor telegraphs it
with a richly pregnant, magnificently silent pause. As Salieri,
Epstein finds all the beauty the composer was striving for but missing.

There are other people onstage in Amadeus, but to lesser effect. Queer
as Folk star Randy Harrison fares much better as Mozart than he did as
Alan Strang in BTF's 2005 production of Shaffer's Equus. But even
though his young Mozart is randy as a goat and smug as a genius, the
performance still pales. Harrison catches the character's irreverence
but not his wit. In supporting roles, Tara Franklin is strong as
Mozart's wife, Constanze; Ron Bagden is appropriately dour as Baron
Gottfried van Swieten; and Walter Hudson is foppish and delightfully
over the top as the emperor.

Amadeus is very well directed by Eric Hill. His plentiful work at BTF
has been hit-or-miss, but it is never less than invested and
adventurous. He makes the play a complete sensory experience from the
first beat, exploiting the natural tension of the sсript in the process.

Karl Eigsti's set is a stagy affair that suggests the opera houses of
the era while feeling distinctly modern, with neon surrounding the
picture frame that cradles the ensemble. But Matthew E. Adelson's
lights and Nathan Leigh's sound are more central to Hill's telling.
Often the designers are Epstein's real co-stars. In a scene in which
Salieri succumbs to the raw beauty of Mozart's music despite his
hatred for all the insouciant composer represents, Epstein is silent,
standing in dim light as the music flows around him. No words are
spoken, but so much is said.

Amadeus runs June 23-July 8 at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, Main
Street, Stockbridge, Mass. Tickets: (413) 298-5576. Website:


Admirable 'Amadeus' at Berkshire Festival
By Chesley Plemmons NEWS-TIMES THEATER CRITIC (Danbury, CT)
Published 01:00 a.m., Sunday, July 2, 2006

If God is the villain, who could possibly be the hero?
In Peter Shaffer's 1980 Tony Award-winning drama, "Amadeus," 18th
century composer Antonio Salieri claims the title.
How could he, a devout musician, sworn to God's allegiance to write
music to enrich the soul, have been passed over by the Almighty in
favor of the vulgar, libertine Mozart?
Shaffer's speculative, provocative and thoroughly engrossing drama is
the season opener on the Main Stage at the Berkshire Festival Theatre
in Stockbridge, Mass., and I haven't seen a more riveting production
of this duel between genius and mediocrity since the Broadway
Shaffer's heady mix of fact and dramatic fantasy suggests that
Salieri was wounded not so much by Mozart's superior musical talent
as by his assumption God had chosen someone he considered morally
inferior to himself on which to bestow the chance gift of brilliant
His renouncing of his vows to God and his obsession with destroying
Mozart becomes a poison that infiltrates not only his life but that
of the music world of Vienna.
The play opens with the infirm Salieri, a patient in an asylum.
Rumors hiss throughout the city that he has confessed to complicity
in the death of Mozart.

Did he poison the gifted composer or was he simply trying to link his
name forever to someone greater than himself? In what he says are his
last hours, Salieri gives us his version of what happened - believe
it or not.
Paralleling the play's two levels between veteran and newcomer, the
festival production boasts two most commendable actors in the roles
of Salieri and Mozart.
In perhaps his most brilliant performance - I've seen him triumph
repeatedly over the years as one of the pillars of the nearby
Shakespeare & Company - Jonathan Epstein makes Salieri a moral
chameleon with whom we can sympathize, but are yet repulsed by.
Randy Harrison, who made a striking debut in last season's "Equus"
here, demonstrates again that he is a disciplined, versatile actor.
His Mozart is rude, unbridled, yet aware of the gift he has been
given: "I am a vulgar man - but my music is not."
Audiences today are probably going to be just as shocked as they were
a quarter of a century ago with Shaffer's references to the young
composer's apparent fondness for the scatological.
The festival production is handsome to the nines, with elegant
costumes by Olivera Gajic and period-evoking sets by Karl Eigsti that
have the look of an Ivory Merchant film brought to life.
Eric Hill is the director and he never let the evening slip into the
doldrums of swooping costume drama. Among the many in his well-cast
ensemble, I particularly admired the steely performance by Tara
Franklin as Mozart's wife, Constanza; Walter Hudson's as the brighter-
than-given-credit-for Joseph II, and Ron Bagden as Mozart's most
consistent supporter in the back-stabbing royal court.
James Barry and Tom Story were amusing in a variety of roles,
particularly as a pair of street gossips.
"Amadeus," which Mozart took for a nickname, is a Latinized version
of a Greek word that means "Loved by God." Had Salieri understood the
truth of that connection, perhaps he would have let this sleeping
genius lie.

@темы: theatre, Amadeus, 2005