“There’s something very interesting about this play, in particular,” says Samuel Adams, who plays Mozart in Folger Theatre’s Amadeus. “In Shakespeare, the characters are very open. Somebody’s Macbeth is going to be very different from another person’s Macbeth. Whereas this play is surprisingly prescriptive. Peter Shaffer spent twenty years writing the script and considers it to be very fixed. So the character, the set, the blocking is very fixed. That’s a little limiting, because you feel more like you have to get the character, as opposed to build the character.” On the other hand, continues the 32-year-old, “it’s very reassuring, because you know that there’s a very specific path to walk.”
The path Adams took to Washington was via New York City. Mozart is his first major role after a year of intensive training at The Academy for Classical Acting, a joint venture between The Shakespeare Theatre Company and the George Washington University. He’s an affable, thoughtful conversationalist, and when asked for his response to Metro Weekly‘s review that noted Amadeus is “a flight of historical fancy, [offering] some very unsubstantiated ideas about some very real people,” he offers a strong counterpoint.
“People have made parallels between the fictionalization of a story and fake news,” he says. “I think that’s a really dangerous comparison to make, because fake news is trying to purport an actual historical reality. It’s intentionally trying to deceive people about alternative facts. I don’t think that that’s what fiction does. When it’s a piece of literature, when it’s a piece of theater, or a piece of art, it’s trying to tell the truth — a human truth, a universal truth — through a story.
“There’s a lot of stuff in Amadeus that’s very rooted in what we assume to be historical fact and what we know about Mozart from the evidence of his actual life,” says Adams. “But the biggest fabrication in terms of just throwing history out the window is the relationship between Mozart and Salieri. They were contemporaries, but we don’t really know to what extent there was a rivalry between them. We certainly don’t have any substantial evidence that Salieri despised Mozart, or orchestrated his downfall or anything like that.”
Still, he says, “there’s a lot of evidence that Mozart was a pretty interesting, different kind of guy. There’s a lot of evidence he wrote all of these letters to family and friends using weird scatological language, wishing people, ‘Have a great night, and I hope you shit in your bed really hard.’ He’d say like, ‘My dear cousin-wousin, I hope you’re having a great evening-weavening,’ and weird stuff like that. He had a pet bird at one point, a starling that somebody gave him. He was obsessed with it, and he would write little bits of music for it and try to get it to sing it. When it died, he made all of his friends come to a big funeral that he threw for the fucking bird.
“What Peter Shaffer did, I think, was take a lot of those little germs of historical evidence and then use them to expand upon a character that is the full-rounded, very dynamic, very, very unusual character we see in the play.”
Amadeus runs through Dec. 22 at the Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. Tickets are $42 to $95. Call 202-544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu.
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