“You can’t digest it all the first time,” says Diego Matamoros, comparing Travesties to a Beethoven symphony.
TRAVESTIES by Tom Stoppard, directed by Joseph Ziegler, with Kevin Bundy, Oliver Dennis, Maggie Huculak, Diego Matamoros and others (Soulpepper, 55 Mill). Previews begin tonight (Thursday, February 12), opens Tuesday (February 17) and runs to March 21, Monday-?Saturday 7:30 pm, matinees some Wednesdays and Saturday 1:30 pm. $34-?$68, some discounts. 416-?866-?8666.
Diego Matamoros is Wilde about his next role.
That's not a typo.
Matamoros plays Henry Carr, the narrator and central figure in Tom Stoppard's Travesties, set in 1917 Zurich. In an improbable but historically true scenario, his cohorts included James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin and Dada artist Tristan Tzara.
In Stoppard's clever script, they're all caught up in a series of variations on Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest.
"The way Travesties deals with history and fiction is amazing," says Matamatoros, one of Soulpepper's founding members, sitting comfortably in the company library dedicated to the late William Hutt.
This production marks his 29th show with Soulpepper. I've watched him onstage for over 20 years. He's amazing with the classics, but he's also clowned around with Theatre Columbus and tackled contemporary scripts by John Mighton and Jason Sherman.
"Because most of the play's events are four decades in Carr's past, it's almost a given that he can't remember accurately. For most people, memories are subjective as well as healthily self-defensive; we tend to remember and hype the good.
"He presents the three famous men in a version of ‘I knew them when,' before their rise to prominence."
Travesties doesn't merely echo Wilde's lines. Joyce, writing Ulysses, and Carr, a minor British diplomat, were actually involved in a production of Earnest.
There's even a Canadian connection: the English-born Carr spent time in Montreal and took part in amateur theatrics there.
"We forget that The Importance Of Being Earnest was controversial when it was first performed in 1895," offers Matamoros. "It shocked viewers, like Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring, because its subtext about the absurdity of social conventions contradicts the surface politeness.
"My theory is that Stoppard loves Beckett's Waiting For Godot, and he also wants to turn theatre on its head like Beckett did. Here, we're finding the comedy is rather like a verbal version of the Ministry of Silly Walks."
Though this is the actor's first Stoppard role, he loves what he sees as the playwright's dual goal.
"Travesties is wildly entertaining and instructive at the same time. I feel like I'm in the room with an older brother who knows more than I do, and each time we work on it something else opens up.
"The experience of Travesties is like that of any really good piece of art. You can't digest the whole thing, whether it's a Beethoven symphony or a rich play, the first time."
He appreciates working with an ensemble - including director Joseph Ziegler - with whom he's shared so many stage experiences.
"[French theatre artist] Ariane Mnouchkine defines theatre as a friendship, with all that friendship entails. Working with friends means there's a level of trust, having a relationship that's about more than doing a job. You can say what you want without worry, and you don't have to build up a level of intimacy.
"That's what we do all the time, often adding new people so the mix doesn't become too comfortable."