By Gretchen Giles
THE GREEKS examined the human being in relationship to the gods, and the Elizabethans examined man's relationship to God. [Playwright] Peter Shaffer is examining man's relationship to a much-diminished God. On some level, this puts the power of man to create on the same level as God's ability to create, and this is the central challenge that comes across."
Finishing his thought, Paul Draper leans back in an upholstered seat in the empty Evert Person Theatre at Sonoma State University and smiles. A freelance director who donates his time to San Francisco's Magic Theater as reader of original scripts, Draper is obviously pleased to meet the challenges raised by the mighty psychological drama Amadeus, opening Feb. 28 at SSU.
Set amid the ending shambles of composer Antonio Salieri's life, Amadeus--made into an Academy Awardwinning film in 1984 by director Milos Forman--is far more about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's rival than it is about the envied genius himself. A court composer of much renown, Salieri lived with the anguished knowledge that while he could hear and appreciate the full mastery of accomplished composition, he himself could never achieve it. Does this torment lead him to fill Mozart's cup with a venom powerful enough to kill the man in his prime? Ah, there's the rub. In fact, there's the play.
"This is a modern play," stresses Draper of this intensely 20th-century work, which marries notions of the divine from our era with passions of 200 years ago. Noting that Shaffer is a Mozart aficionado who owns thousands of Wolfie's recordings, Draper--a deeply intelligent and quiet man in sweater and loafers--nonetheless devoted hours of library time delving into the 18th century and into the particular intricacies of Mozart's and Salieri's lives.
"I found out in my research that there are a number of anecdotal pieces of evidence about Salieri and the question of whether he did murder Mozart," says Draper. "There was a piece published in the Vienna newspaper just days after Mozart died suggesting that he had been poisoned, suggesting that another rival composer had been hired by the Freemasons to kill Mozart because he wrote The Magic Flute and brought the Freemasons into it."
Laughing over the enduring nature of conspiracy theories, he continues. "But in a kind of interesting twist, there is the suggestion that when Salieri was on his deathbed, he said to people, 'I had nothing to do with the murder, I did not kill Mozart.' But then he attempted suicide, so you're left with this notion of, well, like O.J. Simpson: 'If I didn't kill my wife, why am I driving two miles an hour, eluding the police, down the freeway?'"
Of the 30 performers onstage, only one is a professional actor. Tahmus Rounds, an SSU graduate, plays Salieri. Fearing that all his rehearsal time would be spent with the actor portraying this complex character, Draper decided on a professional in order not to leave the other actors neglected.
"Working with student actors is enormously exciting," he says, as members of a stage management class bustle into the auditorium, instantly changing the air in the room from that of quiet reflection to a charged atmosphere of whoops and yells and compliments on Draper's new haircut. "You go out into the professional world and it's easy to forget that there's a reason why you do theater.
"The reason I do theater is because I want to tell a story and deal with great literature and to communicate with an audience ideas that are important," he says, leaning forward. "You get out into the commercial world, you can forget that those are the reasons why you are doing it; and working with the students, you can just see this fire in their eyes."
Amadeus runs Friday-Sunday, Feb. 28 through March 9, at 8 p.m. with matinees each Sunday at 2 p.m. Evert Person Theatre, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. Tickets are $6-$15. 664-2353.
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From the February 20-26, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent
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