Shaffer said that his involvement with this revival -- which premiered last year at London‘s Old Vic Theatre -- has been extensive.
“I work with Peter Hall very collaboratively and with enormous pleasure,” he said. “Revisiting a play after 20 years is like trying to have the same child twice -- and with the same director, who also doesn’t want to retread his old footsteps. I think I‘m working from the desire to get right what was never quite right in the first place. I was never entirely happy with the play.
”[In 1979] the play became splendidly melodramatic,“ Shaffer continues. ”I have no quarrel with melodrama. I love it, the haunting of Mozart by Salieri. Yet I felt that the play escaped into melodrama at the moment of the climax, when the colloquy between the two men was nudged out by histrionics. Particularly, I wanted to explore an area which had not been given its proper due, the area of what it feels like to get up every morning and deliberately set out to destroy what he [Salieri] loves. If a man is almost alone in his culture in perceiving the wonder of Mozart’s music, he must also have a certain sensitivity, and it was this area, a more human area than the donning of a cape and a mask, that was crying out for exploration. In other words, to change the play without making it less exciting -- from melodrama to drama to tragedy, if you like. I really don‘t tend to express satisfaction with my own work, but I’m more satisfied this time than I‘ve ever been, because it seems to me right. And I hope the public will think so also.“
Shaffer did express a concern that audiences in this movie capital will arrive at the Ahmanson expecting a stage version of the film, when, in fact, the film was spun from the play. Shaffer prefers the play, which he feels is more eloquent and, not surprisingly, more theatrical.
He also said he’s currently working on a screen adaptation of his play Lettice and Lovage (for which he hopes to entice Maggie Smith and Judi Dench for the two leads), as well as a new play -- one that‘s been germinating for nearly three years -- about Tchaikovsky’s last days. He insists that he has no intention of revisiting Amadeus‘ turf when writing about another composer: ”I like to think that every play is completely different.“
It’s been said, however, that Shaffer keeps writing the same play over and over, an opinion based on the perception of common threads. It‘s no insult, I suggested. The same has been said of Chekhov.
”If anyone ever compares me to Chekhov,“ Shaffer replied, ”I’ll die a happy man.“
Later, as we headed toward an elevator, he reached out and whispered, ”One thing I want to make clear -- please don‘t think I’m comparing myself to Chekhov. We‘re after completely different things. Chekhov wrote with such compassion and compression, such economy. What he did was genius.“
Which, of course, does not render Shaffer mediocre. It does, however, place him squarely in Salieri’s camp. At last, in a roundabout way, Shaffer had answered the question.
Amadeus plays at the Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown; Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; matinees Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.; through November 28; (213) 628-2772. See review in Calendar under ”Larger Theaters.“