A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Theater

A Singer’s Notes 49: Amadeus at Hubbard Hall, Macbeth at Shakespeare and Company

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The Weird Sisters in Macbeth: Shakespeare and Company's New England Tour Production. Photo Kevin Sprague.
The Weird Sisters in Macbeth: Shakespeare and Company's New England Tour Production. Photo Kevin Sprague.

Amadeus at Hubbard Hall
Macbeth at Shakespeare and Company

Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Schaffer’s Amadeus are fundamentally monologues. Even as arresting a character as Lady Macbeth is given a relatively short part. As the play nears its end, she is effectively eliminated with only a short sleep-walking scene allowed her. Salieri, in Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, basically tells the story he is the main actor in. Mozart is given considerable stage time, but even his most tragic appearances are always book-ended with dry ice comments, increasingly cold, from Salieri. Why? These two masterpieces have mostly to do with the power of narrative, how the story is told. How it is told becomes continually becomes the main character. Central to any kind of narrative predominance is the ever-present passing of time. Macbeth’s time moves rapidly, at a headlong pace. Salieri’s time drags along on a path of morbidity, and at the end he cannot really die. Interruptions to the flow of time in both of these dramas are quickly dispatched or folded into the larger narrative structure so that they seem excrescences.  I looked forward to Shakespeare and Company’s touring performance of Macbeth because Sean Kazarian was a terrific Mercutio a couple of years ago on a similar tour. (reviewed here) His performance of this searing role really met the extremity of it with bravery and continual risk. Interestingly (and intelligently), his Macbeth this year seemed rather befuddled. It was wise of him to know that Macbeth’s misfortunes seem to sneak up on him, as an involuntary participant, at least up to the murder of Duncan. After the murder is done, Macbeth’s language radically changes. Mr. Kazarian got this. He seemed to be sinking into villainy, not rising up to it. There was no joy in it, as I have seen in some more facile actors. It was almost uneventful in his performance, and I mean this as an excellent virtue. The fact that other capable actors played the various parts, several for each, heightened the isolation of this over-parted narrator, and almost seemed to form the morass into which he falls. Each new encounter meant a new complication. Each new murder required another. It was the intrusion of time as the elemental enemy of narrative itself. Narrative must extend; time must limit. Mr. Kazarian was able to hold our interest admirably without orating or even raising his voice, and a beautiful voice it was.

Peter Schaffer's Amadeus at Hubbard Hall
Peter Schaffer's Amadeus at Hubbard Hall

John Hadden, in Amadeus at Hubbard Hall, responded differently to a different play. I thought I detected something almost like sympathy in his machinations against Mozart near the end of the play. There was no joy in his destruction of the great genius. Perhaps even a little regret. The role of Mozart, admirably taken by Miles Mandwelle, who looked the part to the very nines and convinced, posed little threat ultimately to the ongoing ubiquity of Mr. Hadden’s expert performance. What might have threatened to halt its progress was the superb performance of Betsy Holt as Constanze Mozart. This young actress combined in a natural and fluid way a kind of playful, erotic innocence with steely intelligence, especially in her first scene with Salieri. Did she really not know what he had in mind? She almost made me think so, even after giving him a kiss, and then a longer one. Was this a performance of a performance? I still do not know, so detailed was her balance in this scene. She was not silly; she was not serious. She had the kind of innocence which knows all, and a kind of knowledge which still holds the child within. It was her tragedy that moved me as much as Mozart’s, and it was her scenes which almost pulled Mr. Hadden’s masterful narrative down with it. Marvelous use was made of the space with this production. The script was played on the floor, and the proscenium offered itself naturally as a theatrical “other”. After we had seen this for a few scenes, we saw the Emperor and van Swieten, real personages, enter the stage as actors. The brittleness of Schaffer’s writing for these characters was well-read in Jeannine Haas’ direction.

It was my pleasure to attend Shakespeare and Young Company’s most recent event — tragic for the first half, comic for the second. This was the most accomplished performance I have seen from this arm of the Company’s education programs. There was not a weak link in the cast- all deserved praise. May I point out a couple of the young actors for special qualities I appreciated- Evelyn Mahon gave a virtuoso performance of Cressida’s back and forth speech on love. It tripped off her tongue with ease and a kind of grand energy. Taylor Dorsey’s Phoebe was splendid in the way that she took the character seriously and did not rush or push her beautiful voice. Miranda Park brought charismatic clarity to every line she spoke. Let me restate that all the young actors performed admirably. These I mention gave me joy because they did things I like to see and hear in the theatre.

NB — If you are at all interested in the historical Mozart and have found yourself inclined to take Schaffer’s play seriously, read H. C. Robbins Landon’s 1791, Mozart’s Last Year (London, Second Edition, 1989).

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