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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Samuel Adams) conducts his orchestra for the Viennese court in Folger Theatre’s Amadeus // Photo: C. Stanley

Folger Theatre’s Amadeus Deals With Questions of Hate and Immortality

When visiting the Folger Theatre located in the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill, patrons will witness and appreciate the craftsmanship of five 15th Century styled harps reaching soaring heights, fixed within the dimly lit ligneous theatre. After a short time, visitors will soon come to realize these grand instruments evolve into a metaphoric prison cell restraining court composer, Antonio Salieri in his self-made abyss, where lies envy and resentment, his only comrades.

Set in 1823 Vienna, Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, directed by Richard Clifford, opens with echoes of gasps and whispers, serving as rumors circling an empty 18th-century wheelchair. Two actors named Venticello enter expounding on the tales of events that took place thirty years prior. The play runs through December 22.

“Who killed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?”

The question is immediately answered, purportedly, once a seemingly aged Salieri, played by the dynamic Ian Merrill Peakes, takes his seat in the vacant chair. Rolling back and forth, Peakes delivers an almost believable performance as a man confined and matured by unforgiving transgressions. The alteration in his tone of voice, and the quivering words spoken, warrants audiences’ trust in his elder persona. Oddly, glimpses of humor and strength dissipate his “grandfather” façade, making for a unique transition to 1781 that monopolizes this modest 2-hour and 45-minute production.

For the 31-year old Salieri, Peakes fully embodies the stoic and oddly physically mature nature. Ranting on about his God-given gifts, his commitment to composing operas “in the name of God,” and his desire to reign as the supreme composer worldwide, Peakes’ endearing portrayal elicits feelings of empathy for someone fearing to lose their earned and widely coveted position on top.

Relying on hearsay, Salieri forms a notion of Mozart, played by the boyish Samuel Adams, that is inevitably disastrous to himself.

After meeting Mozart and witnessing his talents, that are far ahead of the times, Salieri begins to plot mischievously against Mozart.

In all honesty, Clifford’s recreation of Amadeus is genuinely clever. Capturing elements exemplified in the Tony Award and Oscar-winning renditions, Clifford brings forth a production that relies solely on the exquisite oratorical capabilities of its cast members, and the elegantly pristine garments perfectly positioning viewers in an 18th-century opera house.

Though music serves as the foundation of this story, and the source of contention, theatergoers should not expect live vocals or a grand orchestra, but rather recordings that manage to prompt well-deserving chills. Classical tunes and operatic arias play through the sound system and more than suffice in depicting Mozart’s musical prodigy and the growth in Salieri’s antipathy.

Perfectly parallel to Peakes’ menacing antics as Salieri, is Adams’ charming, yet infantile and vulgar disposition of Mozart. Personifying Mozart is a task Adams achieves with each breath. His occasionally nervous but often obnoxious shrill of a laugh and multi-color hair is both humorous and infectious.

Even though Adams prances and crawls onstage, spewing uncouth verbiage, he maintains an air of innocence that allows his unceasing advancements in his artistry.

Supporting Adams is Lilli Hokama as Constanze Weber, Mozart’s fiancée. Hokama introduces a lightness to the narrative that is needed to pierce the tomfoolery of Mozart and the bitterness of Salieri.

Sashaying around the stage, Hokama appropriately flits with grace as her garments adorned give nodes of lushness. Though she may be initially perceived as a dolt, with time, she proves to be quite a force to be reckoned.

When she rifles with the prospects of infidelity, her inner strength surfaces, paving a precise way forward during a patriarchal time.

In the original production and film, the themes within Amadeus hold firm, and Clifford’s take relishes in each one respectfully.

Brutal language is exaggerated perfectly, presenting the often-hidden crudity within aristocratic life.

Sex is referenced countless times as the source of inspiration in the artistic realm and is frequently deployed as a tactic enacting one’s power over another. God as the life-giver and taker is most haunting as lamentations transcend varying degrees of religious discourse. But all in all, the two themes that resonate most profoundly are hate and immortality.

I once heard that hating someone is like taking poison and expecting them to die. At the core of this theatrical masterpiece lies this fundamental truth. As Salieri hopes to live on forever through his musical accomplishments, his disdain for Mozart has the opposite effect. He marvels at the unending growth of Mozart, scheming continuously to undermine his success, only to spiral deeper into the void of unrelenting spite, where absolution is never achieved.

Amadeus is showing at the Folger Theatre located in The Folger Shakespeare Library through December 22. Tickets are $42-$85 and can be purchased online at www.folger.edu/theatre.

Folger Theatre: 201 East Capitol St. SE , DC; 202-695-7263; www.folger.edu/folger-theatre

New York Premiere LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS Written and performed by John Leguizamo Directed by Tony Taccone In a co-production with Berkeley Repertory Theatre Scenic Design: Rachel Hauck Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols Original Music and Sound Design: Bray Poor

Stage & Screen: November 2019

THROUGH SUNDAY, DECEMBER 22

Disney’s Newsies
Seize the day and see Newsies at Arena Stage. The musical, based on the popular Disney film, follows the charismatic Jack Kelly and his fellow newsboys. When newspaper tycoon Joesph Pulitzer decides to raise the price of papers, Jack and the newsies decide to go on strike. Teaming up with enthusiastic reporter Katherine, this ragtag group shows standing up for what you believe in can prove victorious. Various dates and times. Tickets $66-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JANUARY 5

A Chorus Line
Signature Theatre is known for bringing big, dazzling musicals to the DMV and this production is no exception. A Chorus Line is the story of the talent and passion it takes to make it in the world of professional dancing. Step inside the audition room as 17 hopeful dancers put their dreams on the line through elaborate displays of jazz, ballet and tap. Featuring classics such as “What I Did for Love” and “At the Ballet.” Various dates and times. Tickets start at $66. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 22

Amadeus
How does friendship between two esteemed composers end in murder? In Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, Antonio Salieri cannot let the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart outshine him. Because of this internal drive, Salieri’s mission in life becomes ruining Mozart’s career. Now in 1823 Italy, Salieri tells the tale of how he murdered Mozart 32 years prior. Various dates and times. Tickets $27-$85. Folger Shakespeare Library: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 7 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10

2019 Alexandria Film Festival
The Alexandria Film Festival is back for its 13th year. Come and check out films from both local and regional filmmakers. This four-day fest will feature more than 50 free and ticketed films. Several films will be premiering including Daddio from Alexandria native and Saturday Night Live alum Casey Wilson. A special “veteran’s showcase” will include films such as Who Killed Lt. Van Dorn? Various prices, dates and times. AMC Hoffman Center 22: 206 Swamp Fox Rd. Alexandria, VA and Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library: 5005 Duke St. Alexandria, VA; www.alexfilmfest.com

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8

The NPR Politics Podcast Live: The Road To 2020
Looking for a fun way to be informed on all thing elections 2020? NPR has you covered. Join their live podcast and gain political insight from Tamara Keith, Scott Detrow, Asma Khalid, Ayesha Rascoe and Domenico Montanaro. This is an opportunity to get an up-close view of the nation’s top political podcast and ask the burning questions you have for the pundits. Doors open at 7 p.m. Podcast at 8 p.m. Tickets $34-$54. Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC; www.warnertheatredc.com

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 8 – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30

Airness
You don’t need an instrument to be a rock star. For instance, Nina intends to become one by entering an air guitar contest. After meeting a group of nerdy air guitar enthusiasts, she realizes this childish activity may not be as easy as it seems. Does Nina have what it takes to rock the competition? Find out in the 2017 Humana Festival favorite. Various dates and times. Tickets $41-$51. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 12 – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 17

Rent
La Vie Bohème! Johnathan Larson’s Rent has been inspiring audiences for 20 years. Don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals. The National Theatre is bringing this story of struggle, loss and “Seasons of Love” to DC. Join Mark, a filmmaker capturing his friends as they navigate life in the late 90s, New York City under the AIDS epidemic. Various dates and times. Tickets start at $54. The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.com

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20 – FRIDAY, DECEMBER 22

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Step inside the mind of Christopher John Francis Booth. Christopher is a 15-year-old boy who sees the world in math and puzzles. He might have some “behavior problems” but his brilliant mind is just what’s needed to solve a neighborhood mystery. Playwright Simon Stephens brings the awarding-winning book by Mark Haddon to life with stunning visuals and projections. Various dates and times. Tickets start at $32. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21 – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23

John Leguizamo’s Latin History for Morons
If you’ve noticed the lack of diversity in American history textbooks, you’re not alone. If you’ve created a one man show about Latin History for morons, you’re probably John Leguizamo. Prepare to get educated in the most entertaining way. This performance was Tony-nominated for Best Play in 2018, Leguizamo will hilariously take you through Latin History all the way from the Mayans to Pitbull. Various Times. Tickets start at $59. The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.com

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 21 and SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23

Venus and Adonis at The Corcoran
Opera Lafayette takes opera to the next level. As the only period-instrument opera in America, the orchestra uses old or modern replicas to pay homage to composers from the 17th-19th century. For more than 20 years, Opera Lafayette has been bringing its new take on old compositions to DC, New York and France. For only two performances, they are bringing John Blow’s tale of Roman Gods and mortals, Venus and Adonis, to the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University. Times TBA. Tickets $60-$105. Flagg Building at The Corcoran Gallery of Art: 500 17th St. NW, DC; www.operalafayette.org