The good news is that a decade after Peter Shaffer wrote "Amadeus," the play--now in a luscious, shimmering production at Lamb's Players Theatre--still works.
On the surface, "Amadeus" poses the eternal question of why genius would be bestowed on as rude, crude and seemingly unworthy person as the young Wolfgang Amadeus (or "Beloved of God") Mozart, while mediocrity should be the lot of Viennese court composer Antonio Salieri.
The key to the dilemma, of course, is that this is a tale of worthiness versus unworthiness in Salieri's eyes alone. And what Salieri doesn't see is that the fault lies in his conception of God as a merchant weighing out such good deeds as chastity and charity and doling out fame and fortune accordingly.
The danger in producing a play about mediocrity versus genius is that it draws attention to the quality of the show itself, begging the question of whether the company here has pulled a Mozart or a Salieri.
Not to worry. There is an auspicious feeling of stretch to Lamb's season opener, playing through March 25.
Lamb's has supplemented its capable ranks with worthy talent. It is directed by associate artistic director Kerry Cederberg, and only David Cochran Heath (Salieri) and Michael Buckley (Venticello, one of Salieri's servants) are regulars. The rest of the cast--headed by Aloysius Mullally as a Mozart who exudes innocence and Robert F. Stark as Joseph II, the hopelessly unmusical emperor to whom manners are everything--bring original and colorful interpretations to the parts.
One could ask for more, to be sure: More music to be piped in by Mozart and Salieri. Also, the range of Salieri's task--to move through time and space, from smug contentment to existentialist despair, from apostle to Judas--can provide the role of an actor's career. If Heath is not the last word on Salieri, he delivers a creditable performance with the promise of more over the course of the run.
The production gleams with the attention to detail that nudges Lamb's, at last, into the bigger leagues. Kudos for the engagement of a movement consultant and dramaturge. The elegant costumes by Veronica Murphy Smith--all lace, brocade and tight corsets--are excellently complemented by the wigs. Brett Kelly's lighting plays its own musical variations on the smooth, polished surface of Mike Buckley's simple set.
There may be flaws in the diamond, but this is still a gem of a show.
By Peter Shaffer. Director, Kerry Cederberg. Set, Mike Buckley. Costumes, Veronica Murphy Smith. Lighting, Brett Kelly. With David Cochran Heath, Christine Nicholson, Todd Neal, Mike Buckley, Robert F. Stark, Luther Hanson, Steve Gallion, Cynthia Peters, Aloysius Mullally. Performances at 8 p.m. Plays through March 25 at 500 Plaza Blvd., National City, San Diego.