Review: The Aleph (Soulpepper)

by Dorianne Emmerton

Soulpepper’s The Aleph is incredible, it’s astounding, it’s a must-see. I don’t say this often.

My companion for the evening is a friend who is not really a theatre-goer. I’ve taken him to two plays before, both of which I thought he specifically might like due to their content. So he probably trusts my judgement more than he should, because when he showed up to meet me and asked “So what’s this about?” I could not remember. All I knew was that it was Diego Matamoros and Daniel Brooks and, being a total theatre buff myself, those were names that meant I wanted to see the show regardless of any other factors.

My friend had no associations with those names. But he will now. At the end of the show he was as impressed as I was.

The Aleph is so powerful, in part, due to its simplicity. There is just Matamoros and a chair on stage. He tells a chronological coming of age story. There are a couple of special effects that seem to be fairly easy to carry out – but which are genius in their conception.

And Matamoros is playing himself, it seems. The character’s name is Diego, he’s a Canadian actor who has shared a Stratford stage with Colm Feore; everything Matamoros recounts could be his own experience… until things get weird near the end. That’s when I started thinking that maybe this isn’t the true-to-life autobiographical tale it had potentially been.

Yet even at that point I didn’t remember that the blurb I had read on The Aleph said it was an adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges short story of the same name. This would seem to indicate that it wasn’t so autobiographical – except the Background Notes on the play include asking Brooks “if this production is an adaptation” of the story and his response is “We used several of Borges ideas as a starting point.” So it probably isn’t a very close adaptation, if it can be called one at all. Perhaps it’s more in the line of “inspired by…”

Obviously, I am now very keen to read this story.

I think I didn’t remember anything about the Borges story aspect because I was too enthralled by the play to think of anything outside of what I was directly experiencing. This is the triumph of the production, for me. Being on the vanguard of the ADD generations, I often have back-of-the-mind thoughts even while thoroughly enjoying a play. Thoughts such as “I have to remember to buy transit tokens/email my mother/take out the recycling” or something like “I hope it isn’t raining when the show is over” usually occur to me over the course of a production. They don’t happen because a show is boring me, they don’t distract me, they just flash through the back of my mind while I’m still focused on the stage.

That didn’t happen once during The Aleph. My mind was doing absolutely nothing but watching and listening to Diego Matamoros.

This is not the first time I’ve seen Matamoros owning a stage. This is not the first time I’ve seen a conceptually brilliant Brooks production. Yet I can’t help but feel this is a singular triumph for both.

I would be remiss not to mention Michael Levine, who Matamoros credits as the third crucial artist involved in the piece. Levine is the set and costume designer, and while the set is, as I said, simple, the effects that I mentioned are a central part of it. I won’t say what they are: you really must see for yourself.

Details

The Aleph is playing at The Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill Street, Distillery District) until June 18th, 2011

– Shows run at various times both evenings and matinees; check the schedule to find a showtime

– Ticket prices range from $25 to $35

– Tickets are available online or at 416.866.8666

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

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