Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

South Coast Repertory
Review by Bill Eadie

Also see Sharon's review of The Golden Dragon

Marco Barricelli
Photo by Debora Robinson/SCR
In Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, performing through June 5 at Costa Mesa's South Coast Repertory Theatre, Austria's Emperor Joseph II (Peter Frechette) plays music critic at his first hearing of Mozart's opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, by saying, "Too many notes."

Which echoes my reaction to the play: "Too many words."

Originally produced in 1979, Amadeus was showered with awards and long runs. Audiences rushed to see top actors of the day perform as Austrian court composer Antonio Salieri (Marco Barricelli) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Asher Grodman). Part of what drew in the crowds was a gossipy conceit: that Salieri alone recognized Mozart's brilliance, as well as his own mediocrity, and is so upset by Mozart's lack of dignity that he vows to frustrate Mozart's ambitions at every turn.

And so, Salieri does exactly that, while maintaining the guise of serving as Mozart's friend and mentor.

Of course, in 1979, many if not most audience members would know the name of Mozart, while few knew Salieri and his music (arguably, the success of Amadeus prompted a reconsideration of Salieri's work). A play making the claim that Salieri actually poisoned Mozart (something scholars doubt) was also just juicy enough to draw in the crowds.

As was the contrast between Salieri, the savvy establishment politician, versus bad boy Mozart. Both electorates in Britain and the U.S. were turning conservative with the ascendance of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and Mozart's character provided an uncomfortable reminder of many brilliant but out-of-control rockers from the 1960s and '70s.

Even though it's a big play, Amadeus really comes down to Mozart and Salieri. Mozart's wife Constanze (Liesel Allen Yeager) is featured in the early part of the play but fades as it progresses. Emperor Joseph gets to provide comic relief (he drolly ends several conversations with a swish of his hand and the dismissive words, "Well, there it is"). Two gossips, called "Venticelis" (Christian Barillas and Louis Lotorto) breathlessly purvey action that isn't shown. And, Salieri goes on—he does go on.

Three hours and fifteen minutes. Not all of it is words, of course. There's plenty of excerpts from Mozart, mostly operas such as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi Fan Tutte and The Magic Flute. Even the Requiem makes an appearance, in a reasonably accurate version of the story of its writing.

But, even with the music, that's still a lot of words, most of which come down to philosophical discourses on mediocrity, as compared to genius. Though, actually, there's not all that much about genius, only that child prodigies often make for screwed up adults.

Of course, a lot of words can be more than tolerable in the hands of brilliant actors—and South Coast Rep's company is a lot like the children of the mythical Lake Wobegon: they're above average, every single one of them. Mr. Barricelli has the classical chops for Salieri but his portrayal never really catches fire. Mr. Grodman plays Mozart like a millennial in a big hurry, which works well early on and becomes more problematic as Mozart's physical problems compound. Ms. Yeager registers as the hapless Constanze, but ultimately it's the script that does her in. The estimable Mr. Frechette enlivens the small number of scenes he's in.

There are some nice touches in the production, such as the small pieces of period furniture that stand in for grander surroundings in John Iacovelli's scenic design, and Lap Chi Chu's complicated but effective lighting design, which features a chandelier perched over the audience that provides just the right kind of lighting for the actors to implicate everyone present for the mediocrity that characterizes the lives of even above-average people.

Words, words, words. More cannot be said.

South Coast Repertory presents Amadeus, through June 5, 2016, evenings except Mondays, and afternoons on Saturdays and Sundays at 655 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. Tickets, starting at $22, are available by phoning (714) 708-5555 or online at

By Peter Shaffer. Directed by Kent Nicholson. The creative team includes Alex Jaeger, costume design, and Darron L West, sound design. The acting company includes Mark Capri, Bo Foxworth, John-David Keller, Cynthia Marty, Louis Pardo, A.J. Sclafani, Camille Thornton-Alson, and Geoffrey Wade.

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