The Colorado Springs theater scene has lost a longtime tour de force.
Paul Mathewson, 74, died at home Dec. 26 from a stroke.
The actor and director helped found Star Bar Players in the mid-1970s, started his own theater company called CAST (Colorado Actors Studio Theater) in the late ’80s, and starred and directed on stages all over Colorado Springs and Denver, including Colorado College, Denver Center Theatre Company, Smokebrush, Colorado Springs Civic Theater, TheatreWorks and Fine Arts Center Repertory Theatre Company.
His resume includes roles in dozens of shows, including “King Lear,” “Hamlet,” “The Wind in the Willows,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Annie” and “The Lion in Winter.”
“Paul Mathewson’s Last Cast Party,” a potluck and memorial open to the public, will be held Saturday at Cottonwood Center for the Arts.
“The center of “King Lear” is, of course, Lear, and Mathewson gives one of his finest performances, believable as the bullying parent of the opening scene, the broken-hearted madman of the middle, and the strangely peaceful tragic hero of the ending,” wrote former Gazette theater critic Mark Arnest about Mathewson’s role in Star Bar’s 2000 show.
Mathewson, dubbed “Shakespeare” in his youth by fellow gang members, was a decorated Army veteran who arrived in the Springs after losing his right leg above the knee in combat in Vietnam. He earned the Purple Heart and Silver Star and wore a prosthesis for the rest of his life.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from CC and started a pre-law master’s degree program at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. When acute angina and quadruple bypass surgery caused his doctors to recommend a less stressful line of work, he returned to the hobby of his youth — theater.
He studied acting and directing for three years at the University of Denver, voluntarily directed student productions at Manitou and Palmer high schools and did private coaching sessions.
“My favorite memory of him in plays were when he played the unexpected character,” said Stephanie Brunson, his daughter. “You’d expect him to play King Lear. But you wouldn’t expect him to play the guy who has obsessive compulsive disorder in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ He would do something really unexpected that stretched him.”
Mathewson’s reputation wasn’t all sweet tea on a Sunday afternoon. He was known as a feather ruffler, a challenge to work with and a prankster who loved to moon his fellow actors from off stage and get them to break character. He walked off a number of sets in the name of doing good work.
“You couldn’t direct him — he was very headstrong,” said Eve Tilley Chavez, a longtime actor and director who regularly worked with him. “But he had an insight into the way people work that was rare. He was a highly intelligent man.”
Mark Hennessey, an actor and director who left town in 2010 for New York City, met Mathewson when he cast him in “What the Butler Saw” at Star Bar.
“He was hysterical playing a complete lunatic,” he said. “I learned pretty quickly that Paul lived by his own rules. I took the cast aside and said I’m making up two sets of rules — Paul rules and rules for the rest of you. I’d never done that before. But when Paul can be who he is, he delivers.”
Hennessey credits him with changing his career and his life after casting him in his first bad guy role in “A Few Good Men” after years of being the leading man.
“He could be incredibly difficult and almost infuriating,” Hennessey said. “Other times he was so kind and warm and generous and showed you a clear love for who you were. You don’t meet a lot of people who are so alive.”
Mathewson is survived by his wife, Sally; a son, Duncan Ewell; two daughters, Heather Swanson and Stephanie Brunson; a brother, Mark; and five grandchildren.
"Paul Mathewson's Last Cast Party," potluck and memorial, open to the public, 2-6 p.m. Saturday, Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Ave., free; 233-2219.