Arty Facts

These lapses are exceptionally maddening because the production's full of heroes—all of them, except for Colt and wigmaster Mitch Ely, onstage, waiting patiently for Bacall to get out of the way so they can strut their stuff: Helen Stenborg, as the resident pyromaniac, steals the bulk of the show, but only after much of its bric-a-brac has been efficiently pocketed by the likes of Rosemary Murphy, Elizabeth Wilson, Dana Ivey, Barnard Hughes, Simon Jones, Patricia Connolly, Helena Carroll, and Bette Henritze. They all come through like troupers—in this context, the highest compliment.

The same compliment might apply to the actors trapped in Peter Shaffer's lethal Amadeus. Coward's fictive actresses seem altogether historic next to Vienna's actual 18th-century musicians and court functionaries as Shaffer describes them, but that's because Shaffer paints by numbers, first making up his theoretical plan, then cramming the characters into it willy-nilly. The play was boring and phony enough in its original state 20 years ago. Then Shaffer apparently took some historians' objections to heart, turning out this revised standard version, which ingeniously combines the original's boring phoniness with new contradictory material that makes it incoherent as well.

The new, nicer Salieri doesn't kill Mozart, he just kind of helps him less; the new, nicer Mozart has acquired a brain but lost his rock-star cojones, so that he comes off like Bugs Bunny playing a computer geek. The pity is that David Suchet, far less snooty in his self-torment than Ian McKellen (speaking of ineffable hauteur onstage!), would be worth seeing in a real play. So, probably, would his Mozart, Michael Sheen. Why anyone wants to bask in Shaffer's rambling swill again, I can't fathom. Mozart's life, which was dramatic, is heavily documented—the curious can find the data in Robert Gutman's recent, thorough Mozart(Harcourt Brace)—while Shaffer's version is all arrant lies and nonsense from the start, when Mozart turns Salieri's little tune of welcome into "Non più andrai," including the military exordium, which he couldn't have composed without knowing what was in the libretto. Interesting that the aspect of Mozart Shaffer understands least is his gift for dramatization.

Seafood  in Wonderland: David Patrick Kelly, Jessica Hecht, and Reg Rogers in Lobster Alice
photo: Joan Marcus
Seafood in Wonderland: David Patrick Kelly, Jessica Hecht, and Reg Rogers in Lobster Alice

Details

Waiting in the Wings
By NoŽl Coward
Walter Kerr Theatre
48th Street and Broadway 800-432-7250

Amadeus
By Peter Shaffer
Music Box Theatre
45th Street and Broadway 212-239-6200

Lobster Alice
By Kira Obolensky
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street 212-279-4200

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Kira Obolensky plays fair with facts. Even the name of Lobster Alice's hero, head of a Disney animation team during Salvador Dalí's six manic weeks in Burbank, is an ingenious merger of two names prominently linked to the drawing cels of Mouseschwitz. She tells us what Dalí was hired to do there, and how much footage resulted. Her problem is what comes in between the facts. Everything's surreally fine while David Patrick Kelly, as Dalí, is onstage, a cartoon whirlwind, turning desks into beds and waving prop lobsters as hand extenders. Sweet Jessica Hecht, as the secretary whose boss hasn't tried to seduce her, blossoms like a desert rose under Kelly's exotic ministrations. But she droops like Spanish moss, and so does the audience, whenever Reg Rogers gets going in the thankless and implausible role of the boss, a mother-fixated animator whose prissy inhibitions are as improbable in a studio full of professional artists as the darkly Gothic landscape seen through the window of Neil Patel's witty set is in Burbank. Rogers, who apparently went to a looking-glass acting school where they taught him to reemphasize what was already in the script, adds his insistence to the character's inherent drabness, which makes for a very draggy 90 minutes. Compressed, the tiny story and Kelly's Dalí-ish antics would have made a tasty half hour. But Obolensky's young, and writes excellent speeches about what art is; now she just has to learn to believe them.
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