amadeus by Peter Shaffer, directed by Morris Panych, with David Storch, Matthew Edison, Shauna Black and Robert Persichini. Presented by CanStage at the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Opens tonight (Thursday, October 9) and runs to November 1, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm, Saturday 2 pm. $20-$75, limited Monday pwyc and half-price same-day rush. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNNNN
When canstage announced last summer that Matthew Edison was going to play Mozart in their new production of Amadeus, many in the theatre community let out a big cheer. If any young actor could bring to life the 18th-century whiz of a composer, it would be the appropriately named Edison, who's lit up stages as a geeky math student in Proof, a charming Irish brother in The Beauty Queen Of Leenane and a verbose courtier in The School For Wives.
Turns out the only one who was surprised was Edison himself.
"In pictures of Mozart, he's a very small, roundish guy with bulging eyes, a little face and fair hair," says the actor, a tall, dark-haired ectomorph whose less-than-bulging eyes now are concentrating on the Greek chicken salad he's wolfing down between rehearsals.
"When people find out I'm in the play, they generally ask me two questions. Have I seen the movie? And what's my laugh going to be like?" says Edison, who saw the film while in high school in Ottawa and is trying to avoid imitating Tom Hulce's Oscar-nominated turn, right down to the giggle.
"Frankly, I'm not interested in either of those things."
Edison rightly points out that Peter Shaffer's 1979 script isn't about Mozart at all but about rival composer Salieri's war with God through Mozart. It's also difficult to convey the complexities of a figure people have such strong feelings about.
"You've got this guy who's had a life unlike anyone else's," he points out. "He had this extraordinary talent, he met kings at six, was picked up and held by Marie Antoinette at seven and grew up always being treated in a certain way."
The closest contemporary parallel Edison can think of is Wacko Jacko.
"Michael Jackson was a guy who at an early age was told he was a genius and paraded around the world, and everyone thought he was adorable," he smiles. "As he got older, even though his art was maturing, he was considered less interesting, less adorable and far less cute. The novelty had worn off."
Edison himself displayed wisdom beyond his 20-something years when he premiered his first script earlier this year at the Tarragon. The Dora-nominated play, The Domino Heart, took us into the minds and hearts of three characters as diverse as a grieving 40-something widow, a jovial minister in his 60s and a cynical 33-year-old ad executive.
Although Edison had penned a handful of scripts in high school, this wasn't exactly what you'd expect from a first-time playwright.
"If your father died in a plane accident, I think you'd be much more on the nail if you wrote about your mother dying in a train accident," says Edison.
"There are guards in the heart and brain that tell you you're not ready to talk about something with any sense of perspective. If you write about something else, what you're feeling will funnel into it. It sounds corny, but you channel things. You become a mouthpiece for a voice that's bigger than yours."
Hmmm... sounds suspiciously like Mozart's uncanny ability to tap into a variety of human experiences, no?
"Hardly," laughs Edison. "His process was so incredibly advanced in a spooky, eerie way. Someone who could hear a piece with its orchestration is not a mind I can creatively understand. But sure, being able to tap into an emotion is something I can relate to on one level."
Edison, who trained in improv comedy in Ottawa with comic actors Jessica Holmes, Raoul Bhaneja, Martin Gero and Kurt Smeaton, is always up for new experiences.
Though he doesn't know how he'll top The Domino Heart - which is getting a second production in Cleveland, as well as a French language translation - he's at work on two new scripts. He's also starting up a new theatre company to kick-start projects with artists from various disciplines.
"I want to work on projects that none of us have any experience in," he laughs. "We'll learn an instrument and put on a symphony. This sort of thing forces you into a state of not having an ego, of taking out the natural leader. Maybe we'll do a dance piece, a short film.
"I have lots of interests in different areas, and there's no way I'll have a career in all these fields. But If I can create something with people who can dabble at painting or dance, this is the time and place to do it."