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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper


Or: “Hands Off That Holiness”

The Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful. A lovely name; a sad name. Some might say a name divinely christened to hold the passion play of “the patron saint of mediocrity” Antonio Salieri (Sean Foer) whose martyrdom took forty years and makes up the story of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. Director Maddy Low very wisely chose this forgotten corner of the Garrett Seminary to stage this biblically good tale by the light of its stained glass, by the echo of its vaulted roof, by its warren of priest-holes offering the strangest and the saddest of surprises.

Midnight in Vienna, the garden of music and scandal. Salieri, now an old man, conjures us, the ghosts of spirits yet to come, to attend his last confession: the tale of his war against g-d and His instrument Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Brett Warner) the most vulgar, perverted, gibbering genius ever to put music to the page. A maestro, conducting the symphony of his memory Salieri takes us through his rise as a prominent of composer, a virtuous man and humble servant of the divine melody, the incubation of his detesting veneration of Mozart’s work and his private crusade to destroy “the creature” and thwart the will of heaven.

With the help of sound designer Michael Rodgerson’s orchestrations of Mozart’s work, (punctuated by the hum of divine disapproval or hellish encouragement) Low fills the chapel with light, shadow and deluges of paper to conjure the butterfly flutter of the Austrian court, and the miasma of obsession that drives both artists on. Aided by the blustery Venticelli (Chris Porter and Ben Weiss) the premier rumor mongers, our attention is swept to each corner of the the hall as Motzart, his lover Constanze (Laura Smith), and a chorus of Germans are brought in or faded out. Warner greatly up-plays Motzarts vulgarity, finding the exact pitch of that unctuous braying laugh, so that even we wouldn’t mind introducing him to our knuckles, before launching into the most beautiful speechs on the redemptive power of music. Smith too saturates herself in Constanze’s ardor but admirably tempers herself with concern and gives the whole performance added edge of having a voice that is not swallowed by the space.

But it is Foer’s story and it is Foer’s show and from first to last he performs with a maestro’s energy and eye for detail. His Salieri has that hardest of qualities to describe, presence, not commanding but compelling. Even at his most caustic and courtly or candy nibbling, we always see the gears turning behind his eyes, hear his heart pounding in our ears. Further more, like any good storyteller, Foer gives his triumph and his suffering directly to us and takes his nourishment, like a tree from sunlight, from our attention. And to top it all off, he’s very funny; dropping jokes and caustic witticisms as a emperor disperses coins; and like any comedian worth his salt, he knows how to take a joke and turn it to a dagger in mid delivery. I hate to give praise without a garnish but Foer simply takes Salieri’s soul and makes a bell of it; he takes Shaffer’s rich beautiful phrases, and makes them the perfect sermon for The Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful. He gives the benediction that unlocks the Grace of what Amadeus can be.

Title lifted with reverence from Moby Dick.

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