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Review: The Aleph

Posted by art On May - 31 - 2011

Diego Matamoros. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

The Aleph
Directed by Daniel Brooks
Featuring Diego Matamoros

Runs until June 18 @ The Young Centre for the Performing Arts

By Jen Handley

For all the richly detailed characters and emotionally resonant moments Diego Maramoros creates, the most impressive aspect of his performance in The Aleph is that you’ll believe anything he tells you.

And that’s saying a lot. Matamoros and Daniel Brooks adapted The Aleph from a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, a slow burner that might bring to mind a mid-twentieth century, Argentine version of one of Poe’s ideas. Without giving away too much, it’s safe to say that the play runs into a mind-bending twist, but it gets there so gradually and stealthily you barely recognize how fantastically outrageous it is even when it’s right in front of your nose.

This is in large part the result of the adaptation’s ingenious construction, which replaces Borges’ protagonist with the real-life, nineteen-year-old Matamoros, and leaves intact details of his life: his father’s work as a diplomat, his friendship with fellow young actor Colm Feore, even a copy of his headshot. Matamoros, now a professorial fiftyish, remarks with disarming self-deprecation that the photo shows a young man “full of hope—well, full of the absence of despair.”

But the story Matamoros sets out to tell us, about an extraordinary few weeks he spent on a summer visit to his family in Buenos Aires as a teenager, is where the fiction comes in, though you wouldn’t know it from Matamoros’ performance. He’s conversational at first, and indulges in his “memories” with as much youthful awe as if they were his own. The Buenos Aires he becomes larger than life in the glow of his nostalgia, and the grand nicknames his family attaches to everything: his father’s insanely complex house is “El Labarynto,” and the tall, dark Italian girl he has a crush on is “El Diosa,” the goddess.

But as Matamoros (or the version of him that went to Buenos Aires that summer) gets more and more wrapped up in his experiences, you begin to get the sneaking suspicion that it might be something more than youthful awe that’s making his visit, and the return he makes the following year, so intensely special. Slowly but surely, the young Diego develops a nemesis, his self-important but untalented cousin, a director, Vittorio. Vittorio spends all his time below his ancestral home, in a theatre, represented here by wall-to-wall mirror that reflects not just Matamoros, but—in the play’s for turn for the creepy—the entire audience. This simple but astonishingly effective set piece allows Matamoros to hold effortless conversations between two characters, and look into this particularly corner of Buenos Aires as though it really is another world. The climax of the play happens in this theatre, and it’s worth every moment of the wait.

At the very beginning of the play, before Matamoros launches into his story, he shares an anecdote about an eighty-year old actor who auditions with a perfect Hamlet. It’s half shaggy-dog joke, half parable, and ends with a miracle; and that pretty much describes the entire play. The rest you’ll have to see to believe.

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