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Good Composer, Bad Composer

“Amadeus” pits two musical rivals against one another in a production that also seems to fight with itself.

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Richmond Shakespeare's production of Peter Shaffer's “Amadeus” is a two-and-a-half-hour lesson in inconsistency. From the costumes to the acting, the show carries the audience through noteworthy highs and lows.

“Amadeus” is the fictitious story of the plot of composer Antonio Salieri (Andrew Hamm) to destroy his rival, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Mike Hamilton). The action takes place in the 1780s but you might not know that by watching this play. Half of the cast assume the appropriate manners and nuances of the period, while the rest stick with modern behavior. Several of the costumes by Rebecca Cairns and Ann Haskins have similar inconsistencies: painstaking execution in the design, but in the case of Constanze (Liz Blake), a lack of attention to, ahem, temporally appropriate undergarments for when the skirts go flying.

The show opens with Hamm delivering a monologue explaining Salieri's motives for ruining Mozart. But in Hamm's scene setting, he rushes through moments that would give the audience an opportunity to sympathize with Salieri -- a key factor to the moral conflict of the play. The sinister complexity of Hamm's Salieri really emerges toward the end of the first act as he begins his seduction of Constanze. But Hamilton's Mozart is the master of this conflict.

Hamilton captures the maddening, childish charm of Mozart through his impish giggle and teasing tones. He and fellow Virginia Commonwealth University student Joseph Sultani (playing Baron Van Swieten and Kapellmeister Bonno) clearly understand how to conjure realistic characters. Hamilton carries the show on his talented shoulders -- at least until the middle of the second act, when the pace slows at times to tedium. But there are bright spots throughout, such as Cynde Liffick's stately treatment of Joseph II, Emperor of Austria -- her repetition of a single line drew laughs throughout the show.

Once the appropriate undergarments get put on Constanze, “Amadeus” will be appropriate for ages 13 and older. Salieri's conflict of faith is fine food for conversation as part of the Acts of Faith Festival.

“Amadeus” runs through March 8 at Second Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $15-$26. Visit www.richmondshakespeare.com or call 866-227-3849.

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