Saturday, June 2, 2012

Stef's "So Good You Can't Put It Down" Book Reviews: Equus by Peter Shaffer

So far what anybody really knows about this play is that a troubled teenager went crazy one night and blinded a bunch of horses...

Ladies and gentlemen, the reason why I even decided to buy Equus from the Lacordaire Academy Book Sale:

That's right! I saw this hanging up in Life Hall awhile ago and decided to take a picture of it for this blog! Apparently, they will be performing Equus in the Spring 2013 semester, so I figured I'd read the play to prepare myself for it, since I very rarely read a play ahead of time on my own before I go see it. Now you have the honor to see me review both the actual script and if I able to, the Peak Performance for The Montclarion. I will write this review based on how I feel MSU will produce it and then down the line we will see if I am right.

BEGAN READING: May 20, 2012

This is one freaky play that makes for intricate theater (especially the final scene of Act 1, right before the blackout), so it's no wonder that Montclair decided to perform it this upcoming season. I can picture it being performed in Fox, for there is limited setting that can be accomplished with benches, which is actually what the script calls for. Equus includes lighting changes according to mood and flashbacks, background chanting and other sound effects, a singular setting that can incorporate multiple settings which don't require much set, and cast members sitting on the actual stage when they are not in a scene as opposed to going backstage, all of which I've seen happen in Fox before, so therefore I believe that is going to be the choice theater.

There are scenes in which the lead male character, Alan Strang, mimes taking his clothes off or actually takes off some of his clothes. Yeah, this is a Montclair Peak Performance production. There's going to be full-blown theater nudity in this, which is probably another reason why Montclair has decided to include it in the 2012-2013 lineup. If the script calls for it and other productions of this same show have Alan get completely nude, we're definitely doing it too. Chances are this production will be directed by Susan Kerner if this all plays out. However, both theatrical nudity and Susan Kerner productions have only taken place in Kasser, but we may yet be able to see it done in Fox. 

I'm actually going to bring what I learned in my "Major Film Genres" course from this past semester about the hard-boiled detective genre into this review. Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist who has issues of his own and is overworked, is approached by Hester Salomon to help troubled teen Alan Strang. Like hard-boiled detectives, Dysart is approached with an assignment and becomes more and more invested to get to the bottom of the case. The only difference here is we are told right away what has happened (1.2) and Dysart's task is to figure out why it happened and spends the whole play trying to use different methods, such as hypnosis, to get into Alan's psyche. He is trying to solve the case instead of cure Alan. To me, Dysart acts more like a detective than a psychiatrist, because the script leaves you in suspense about what actually happened the night Alan, ahem, blinded six horses with an ice pick. See, usually this is the punchline but here it is revealed when the play begins, getting it out of the way, so it therefore is a bunch of flashbacks and works backward. In normal mysteries, the "what" is discovered along the same time as the "why," but in Equus this is not the case.

The play is pretty much about a seventeen-year-old kid who worships horses. His mother, Dora, is religiously devout whereas his father, Frank, wants nothing of the sort. It is because of the conflict between his parents that Alan connects religious salvation to horses. However, Alan's thoughts and actions seem too psychotic for his mother to be the blame. I could see if Dora was a religious fanatic with him growing up, but from what I see all she really does is teach him biblical verses and the ways of the Lord just like any other religious mother would. In fact, in Act 2 Scene 23, Dora has a very interesting monologue about how she shouldn't be blamed for Alan's actions because she is a parental influence but rather Alan should because he is his own person. To me, Dora isn't to blame because she hasn't done anything abnormal when raising Alan to cause his mental confusion to happen. It's Alan's own perspective of religion and horses that drive him into such a frenzy.

When Alan was a child Dora bought him a picture of Jesus shackled in chains, which hung on the wall in front of his bed, but Frank replaced this picture in the same location with that of a horse looking at him. Alan's young mind connected the horse, Equus, with Jesus because the horse took Jesus's place in Alan's bedroom and they both wear chains, so ever since his childhood Alan was influenced by this, so it was his parent's doing after all, though it was his own perception of everything that caused his confusion and intense reactions. Dora tells him that God watches him all the time and it just so happens that the horses watch him as well, further connecting the horse to God. Christians believe God is in Heaven watching over us, but Alan physically sees the horses always watching him, making it more real for him and putting him under extra pressure. Next time you look at a horse (but ignore the teeth first) think about this. It's a majestic looking animal, so it's very understandable that Alan makes it his deity. 

Horses represent so much for this kid! They represent salvation, sexual expression, freedom, sensuality etc.! There's a whole argument here I can bring up about how sexuality and orgasms bring you closer to God because it gives you an ecstatic feeling of no pain and worry, pleasurable feelings you experience to make you at one with God (I actually read about this idea in an article and really like the analogy.). This is exactly what Alan experiences, but with horses! We can say that this is bestiality, because it's clear throughout the play that Alan is sexually aroused by these horses even though it is not blatantly told to us. It may seem gross at first glance, but if we connect his love for Equus to his love for God, and if sexual love and spiritual love are one in the same, it makes a lot more sense and seems less grotesque. To him, Equus IS God. I definitely think of horses differently after reading this play in this religious sense.

A good thing about this play is that even though Dysart and Alan go into philosophical rants, which are the poetic, somewhat confusing moments of the play, the rest of the play is pretty understandable. It flows well, the scenes being continuations from the previous ones as if they are chapters of a novel, so there is not a lot of pausing and you can understand the issues of the characters. One criticism I have about the play is how Shaffer incorporates Dysart's background story and connects it with Alan's. Normally I would appreciate this and think that the play is lacking if Shaffer left out Dysart's back story, but the thing is, I don't feel Dysart's story is needed in this particular play. Dysart comes to realizations of himself because of his interactions with Alan, but it doesn't' really contribute anything to the plot. Alan's story is interesting enough to keep the play flowing, deeming Dysart's story unnecessary, even if it is connected to Alan in some way. We are there to figure out what the deal is with Alan. In fact, we are at the edge of our seats waiting for the conclusion and Dysart's story, which is presented in lengthy monologues, just interferes and proves as a distraction from the center plot. Alan is the reason why people care about this play and the reason why they go see it. They care about Alan's story because his story is the catalyst and reason of the play. Dysart's story isn't what people care about and audiences may not even know about it going in or remember it coming out. Alan's story is automatically known. I could be wrong about this for I don't speak for the public, but what character is more interesting: the teenager who has been committed in a ward because he rides horses in the nude and has blinded six of them or his psychiatrist whose main focus is Alan and his marital problems come second to his work and are just thrown into the play as random additions? Exactly. Alan is the way more interesting character.

I can't conclude this review without talking about this: 

Isn't it kind of sad that my first exposure (pun definitely NOT intended) to this classic play was a nude ex-wizard? From what I remember, the girls of America went wild when they found out Dan Rad would be baring all for the Broadway production of Equus back in 2007. I never saw Daniel Radcliffe's production of Equus, but this is how I first heard of this play's existence and as I was reading the play I kept thinking about him in it. I'm sorry, but I do not picture Radcliffe pulling off Alan Strang well, who is actually a pretty rebellious jerk (Ha! I called him a jerk) of a character. We grew up with Radcliffe portraying the greatest literary hero of our generation, Harry Potter of course, so it's kind of difficult picturing him portraying such a tortured soul as Alan. I feel like Alan is too heavy of a character for Radcliffe, who played a lighthearted yet emotionally mature 10-year-old boy...who grew up in a wizardry school. I know he has the right to expand himself through all different characters, but a sarcastic brat like Alan doesn't seem to suit him well to me. I actually can picture Radcliffe pulling off the highly ecstatic frenzy parts, but not necessarily the snarky mocking remarks Alan makes to Dysart. From what I see, when actors are in the business for a while a trend they seem to inherit is portraying the same archetypal characters, so probably because Radcliffe is fairly new to the acting field, being in his early twenties, perhaps he has not yet found his archetype yet, which is fine, nor is it a requirement. I'm not suggesting that he totally failed at playing Alan but I am saying that there are certain parts I can't see him doing. 

The Harry Potter series was both a blessing and a curse for this guy. It was good that it established a career for him, but it's not good in the fact that we will always see him as Harry Potter and nothing else really compares. The same goes for a lot of child actors. However, his fans seemed to really appreciate his Broadway debut in Equus and still feel the same way about him in How to Succeed (Without Really Trying), in which he is currently starring on Broadway. At first I couldn't really see him singing and dancing either, but people told me he does very well in this musical and then I was really impressed with his performance on the Tonys, so I'd say he's doing well for himself and will continue to do so. The Harry Potter series proved to have been a springboard for him and a variety of roles.

Hey, you think that since Darren Criss has followed in Radcliffe's footsteps thus far, he'll be running around with horses in the nude sometime soon? Hey, just a thought. ;)

Anyway, all in all Equus is a very captivating read. I started this series off by saying that I am not much of a reader but I finished the book in two days, even with people talking around me, something that normally distracts me often, so that's saying something. It's a very small book without the intimidating bulkiness, so that helps. Reading it gave me chills. It's heavy and simple all at the same time, so yeah, I recommend. 

Okay, well there you have it. The very first installment of "Stef's 'So Good You Can't Put It Down' Book Reviews." This is what I take from Equus. I apologize for the length of this. I didn't expect it to be THAT long, so I will try to make my future installments a little bit more concise. I want my next one to be a classic, so I'm thinking Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Or, I might write about a fiction that I want to return back to. Already I'm slacking so we'll see. :)

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