MOZART & SALIERI, Teatro Tout Bagai!, at Le Cafe. Most of us are familiar with Salieri’s jealous agonies through Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, but Shaffer wasn’t the first to explore Salieri’s poisonous love for Mozart’s work. In the early 19th century, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin wrote the 40-minute playlet Mozart & Salieri, which is made up of Salieri’s quick explanation of his devotion to music and his wrath at God for bestowing “the trance of genius” on a nitwit like Mozart, a visit from the genius in question, and an ode to the bottle of poison Salieri always keeps in his pocket.
This is not merely a Cliffs Notes version of the story, however–it has the economy and elegance of thought of a good poem. Pushkin explains Salieri’s artistic downfall in a single passage: trying to be the best possible student of music, Salieri turned into a scientist and “stifled sounds and dissected music like a corpse.” Mozart’s eccentricities reveal themselves only in his passionate approval of art in any form–even when a blind piper butchers his music.
Deborah J. Crable directs this intimate play at Le Cafe, a new basement space that looks as though it means to give Cafe Voltaire a run for its money–though it’s difficult to appreciate talk of good music with the Village People blasting in the cafe above. Regina Kirby is a thoughtful Mozart, but a little too calculated in her fits of whimsy; and the reason for casting a female Mozart is never quite clear. Thomas Greene gives an alert, intelligent performance as the passionately deliberate Salieri, and Mozart’s music is played with elan by pianist Allan Segall.