Matthews carries many monikers in the theater world: actor, director, producer, teacher, playwright, dramaturge, translator, and adaptor. He is an Emeritus Professor of English from California State University at Hayward and a renowned Shakespearean scholar. He is also the former artistic director of the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival and the California Actors Theatre, an associate artist and resident dramaturge at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, the founding artistic director of The Antaeus Company in North Hollywood, and the co-founder of Andak Stage Company, a relatively new component of his ten-year-old Andak Theatrical Services.
In November 2003, Matthews' plucky adaptation of Henry IV opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. Though some may balk at the idea of anyone tinkering around with Shakespeare, the adaptation -- which condensed the individual, lengthy Parts I and II of the play into a single, streamlined 3 hour and 40 minute work with two intermissions -- was generally considered to be highly fulfilling and resourceful. Members of New York's Drama Desk certainly felt that way, for despite the lack of an adaptation category in their regular roster of honors, they voted a special award to Matthews for his efforts.
"The Drama Desk Award was a huge surprise and it was really wonderful," Matthews recently said over coffee at the NewPlace Theatre Center, home of the intimate performing space shared by both Andak and Antaeus. "I mean, there is no category for what I did and they made one up. I thought, 'Well isn't that nice? They didn't make me run against anybody for it and they didn't have nominations -- they just gave it to me.' And then, for the same show, I get the Bayfield Award for Shakespearean Acting in a Minor Role. That's an Actors' Equity award; somebody just funded it. An award from my fellow actors! It doesn't mean that my work in that show was any better than in any other show, but it's nice to work in a big pond from time to time."
While Henry IV was running on Broadway, Matthews' next original work, The Prince of L.A., was being prepped for its world premiere at the NewPlace Theatre Center in the little pond of North Hollywood. The production opened in the spring of 2004 with Matthews starring as Matthew Cardinal John in an exploration of sexual abuse and the exploitation of power within the Catholic Church. Both the show and Matthews' performance received great critical praise in Los Angeles, and the production was re-mounted later in the year for a second run.
Now, thanks to Prince, Matthews will bask in more recognition of his talents within the Los Angeles theatrical awards community. He has been nominated for two LA Weekly Awards in both the Playwriting and Leading Male Performance categories; that kudosfest will take place on April 25 at the Music Box/Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. And tonight (March 21), he will be a significant presence at the 36th annual Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, having garnered a Lead Performance nomination for The Prince of L.A. as well as being the pre-announced recipient of two LADCC special awards: the Ted Schmitt Award for Outstanding Writing of a World Premiere Play for Prince and the prestigious Margaret Harford Award for Sustained Excellence in Theatre. Both awards are funded by outside sources -- Z. Clark Branson and Pacific Resident Theatre, respectively -- and come with checks for $500 apiece.
"I'm very grateful to the LADCC," Matthews remarks, "because there are certain career awards which you can't get unless you have had a long career and, to some extent, been committed to a locality. If I had worked much more in New York, I wouldn't have been worthy of an award for Los Angeles theater. I'm very proud of the fact that, for 20 years, I have been this active in a local theater town -- which is, quite frankly, a very difficult theater town."
This is the first time in the history of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle that the work of a single person has been so expansively recognized -- and deservedly so. Matthews has spent four decades of his life working in the theatrical arts, half of it based out of the Bay area and half based out of Los Angeles. He has appeared in more than 20 feature films; has had numerous guest spots on television shows going as far back as Remington Steele and St. Elsewhere, on up through such current fare as Charmed, Judging Amy, and The West Wing; and has been seen in regular or recurring roles in a dozen different TV series, including The King of Queens, Gilmore Girls, and the critically acclaimed Jack & Bobby.
But his devotion to the craft of acting and the glories of the written word have been most evident in his theater work. Matthews has translated five Spanish plays from the Golden Age into rhyming English verse, three of which have been published and performed. His original work Uncommon Players was commissioned and produced by the Old Globe, and The Great Fugue was produced as part of ACT's Plays in Progress season in San Francisco. His most recent play, the head-spinning The Savannah Option, has just finished its run at the NewPlace Theatre. And he is currently serving as dramaturge for a new Broadway production of Julius Caesar, starring Denzel Washington and directed by Dan Sullivan, set to open at the Belasco on April 3.
The recent acknowledgments surrounding his work as an actor and playwright has been a long time in coming. As Matthews noted, "I really have been doing all of this stuff for 40 years, it's just that people have now sort of noticed! Henry IV was, in fact, the culmination of 30 years of working on that script. I originally did it as a commission for a production that never happened, more than 30 years ago. I just kept it and kept working on it."
While Matthews is modest about this recent spate of recognition, he is also pragmatic about the reasons for it: "What I think, to some extent, is that if you labor professionally long enough and if you stay in it because you're obviously good enough to stay in it, then you'll know pretty much at what level of acting, directing, and playwriting you stand in the American theater. Finally, you will be working with people of clout and of importance. I've worked with [Old Globe artistic director] Jack O'Brien for 30 years. I once said to him, 'You are star, I am wagon, here I hitch!' Jack and I have been friends and colleagues for years; I've been his dramaturge on all the Shakespeare work, and he's commissioned a couple of plays from me based on Shakespearean themes. So, as his career moved up, my career moved up with any project where he needed my assistance."
Certainly, friendships and connections play a considerable role in helping to shape one's career; but, ultimately, it's talent and perseverance that win out over anything else. After 40 years of dedication to the dramatic arts, happily splashing about in both big and little ponds, Dakin Matthews is not only working with people of clout and importance but has clearly become one himself.