Equus a Sublime Theatrical Experience
Lawrance Bernabo, Duluth News Tribune
October 14, 2011
The thought that kept reverberating through my mind as I watched opening night of Equus at the Duluth Play Ground, was that the theatrical experience of Peter Shaffer’s play is so vastly superior to the cinematic version that I am never going to watch the movie again.
Inspired by a perhaps apocryphal news item, Equus is the story of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (John Schmidt), who seeks to discover the reason why young Alan Strang (Joel Youngblom) blinded five horses with a metal spike. Using everything in his bag of tricks, Dysart compels Alan to tell the dark truth that explains that which seems to be beyond explanation.
The more Dysart questions Alan about Equus, the horse/god the boy worships, the more the psychiatrist ends up questioning himself. Schmidt plays Dysart as a paragon of rationality, his voice and thinking both tempered by reason. But Dysart’s thumbs are always twitching, against his palms, his index fingers, his coat sleeves or even each other, hinting at his submerged agitation.
This Alan Strang is not an innocent with a beatific smile who has possibly been touched by the divine, but an angry young man who is the synthesis of the parents who raised him. A combination of the immersion into obscure Scripture by his mother (Julia Ahasay) and the secular but no less righteous indignation and bellicose attitude of his father (Todd Larson). The result is a corruption of Christianity fused with mythological elements reflecting the universal human appreciation for equine beauty.
Youngblom’s anguished performance is at the heart of the pivotal scenes that end each act of the play. The first finds him driving the horses in a frenzy of religious ecstasy, the scene augmented by the power of “O Fortuna” from “Carmina Burana.” Boy and horse at that moment suggest the glory of Alexander the Great and Bucephalus. In act two, Alan’s madness recalls instead the Emperor Caligula and Incitatus.
Curtis Phillips has overlaid the Play Ground stage with an immense and sometimes creaky edifice of wood streaked gray, the color of ambiguity, mostly raked toward the audience. With benches where the cast sits for the entire production, the stage design resembles a Puritan meeting house.
The horses are created from Mary Plaster’s wire-framed heads, attached to riding helmets, and leather harnesses designed by Richard Rosvall, worn by a quintet of performers. Unlike the puppet wizardry of Broadway’s “Warhorse,” they are, as the fantasy-inspired fulfillment of Alan’s imagination dictates, illusionary creatures.
This production forgoes the nudity required by the script. I have never considered the nudity in Equus to be gratuitous, but I did have concerns about its appropriateness, not because of notions of local community standards, but because I think the intimacy of this particular theatrical space, the Play Ground’s greatest strength, could be counter-productive in this instance.
Besides, the importance of the nudity was to symbolize standing naked before your God, which happens regardless of clothing. The tragedy is that Alan can stand next to a naked woman and reach instead for the fantasy of his personal deity, and that key element certainly remains.
Going to a play on opening night you expect to there to be a few mess ups throughout the night but not as bad as it was while seeing Equus. This story of Equus is about a boy named Alan killed five horses because he believes them to be God in his mind. He ends up going to a hospital for patients with mental problems so the court can find out why he killed five innocent horses. If that alone give you the creeps the rest of the play will too.
First off, the acting was horrible. One of the directors or someone that was running the show had to interrupt the performance because one of the Actresses messed up her part. This same actress messed up her lines more than ten times throughout the performance and it was very noticeable. It seemed as though she wasn’t ready to perform the part she had been assigned to. Another fluke that happened through the night was that some of the lines over lapped. The main character Alan started talking when another actor Dr. Dysart hadn’t finished their line yet, then Alan stopped and started that line again once Dr. Dysart was finished. The acting was horrible, to say the least. Either they need more practice or they just didn’t know what they were doing because the audience could definitely tell that they had messed up, instead of just keeping their cool about it. The other part that was very awkward for the audience was the fact that the main character, Alan was very creepy. It was his part to be a mental patient, but there is a point when he took it to an extreme and was freaking out the audience. In real life if this were to happen, it wouldn’t have been as dramatic as the character of Alan made it.
Another thing that was very unusual was that when the production started you couldn’t even tell that it was starting because the lighting didn’t change until after the actors were on stage. Normally the lights dim in the theater so the audience knows to stop their conversations because the show was about to start. Since it was apparent that the show was starting some audience members were still having conversations even after the first line was spoken.
During the show there was a fifteen minute intermission. To be completely honest many of the audience members were wondering if the show was over since the first act took an hour and a half to get through. During the first Act, the plot of the story was very hard to comprehend. After the play was over, it was apparent to what the whole two and a half hour production was about.
The set of this production was a very huge problem. They were always moving things around which made it really hard to concentrate on the performance. It was also hard to pay attention the actors that were actually performing while the other actors and actresses that were casted in the play were all sitting on the stage it the back. It would have been better if they would have exited the stage completely instead of sitting on the benches on the set.
The language that was used in this performance was very vulgar. Since we were not warned at the beginning of the production that there would be vulgar language many of the audience members were caught off guard and offended by the word choice used in the script. Another thing that the director might want to recognize is that when using a strobe light you need to warn the audience. People that have seizures need to be aware of this fact because strobe lights are a factor that cause seizures to people that have been diagnosed with an illness that can produce seizures. Another thing that needs to be addressed is the part that there will be nudity during the performance. The audience was stunned at the fact that the performers started taking their close off. No, it wasn’t full nudity but enough that the audience should be warned about it before watching the show.
All in all, for the fifteen dollars you pay to see the performance of Equus was definitely not worth the money. The horrible acting, bad set, and the fact that The Play Ground did not informing the audience of some of the things that they would be seeing during play was not worth fifteen dollars.
Thursday night was the opening of one of the most known plays in history. Equus which was performed at the Duluth Playhouse had high standards to fulfill. Peter Shaffer’s production was a letdown to say the least and disappointed much of the audience. Hopefully the other shows of the play are more successful than the first for the audience’s sake.
Equus was the story of a psychiatrist Martin Dysart played by John Schmidt who ends up helping a troubled 17 year old boy Alan Strang played by Joel Youngblom. Alan went to Martin’s mental hospital after blinding five horses one night in their stable. Slowly but surely Alan began to open up and let Martin know why he did what he did. The play reveals corruption of the boy and is very disturbing at some parts. One of the scenes in the play is somewhat inappropriate. With such a diverse audience they showed too much skin for the younger and older members. The nudity was too graphic and left little to the imagination.
Joel Youngblom who played Alan was an incredible actor. He made the play very real as if you were watching this event take place right in front of you. He played a disturbed boy and did a remarkable job. In various scenes of the play he was to jump around and yell and he did so very naturally. He did a great job of remembering and reciting his many lines and left the audience amazed by such an incredible performance. Joel was one of the few audience members who did a good job. Some members of the cast tarnished the whole play such as Kelly Mullan who played Hesther. Hesther had messed up her lines several times throughout the performance. These little mess ups were very noticeable and left the audience disappointed. This one person’s performance had a negative impact on the rest of the play and overall was a big letdown.
The stage was set up to play different areas. It was to make up an office, horse stable, and also the boys room at the hospital. With the look of actual wood it was able to play all of this off very effectively. The stage was very well displayed and kept the audience even more interested. Another interesting part was the way the cast portrayed the horses. Since real horses are obviously out of the question at the Duluth Playhouse the cast had to create a way to display them on the stage. The five actors wore metal horse heads on top of their own. It was clear to the audience what they were portraying and overall worked out tremendous. The lighting of the play was also something to recognize there were great spotlights which help keep the attention on what was happening in the play. Also during one of the horseback riding scenes they put on a strobe light and it really created excitement and intensity.
Overall the play was okay. Some of the actors were very good but some of them ruined it for all of them. With the replacement of some actors this play would have a lot more potential. It overall was a disappointment and has a lot of room for improvement.
After reading a couple of the reviews previous to mine. Thursday, the opening night of Equus was not the right day to go. Attending the play on that Saturday night must have been enough time for the actors to clean up there acts because there was not to many noticeable mess ups like there were during the opening night. Walking into a play when you know nothing about what you are about to see is never a good idea. The play was very hard to follow at the beginning, and was not exciting enough to make me think that it was going to be a great play.
Equus was the story of a man by the name of Martin Dysart who was played by actor John Schmidt, who was asked to help a young 17 year old boy named Alan Strang played by actor Joel Youngblom. Strang was caught stabbing 5 horses with a metal stake in the eye, and it was Dysart's job to get to the bottom of why this young boy would do such a thing. John Schmidt did very well when it came to playing a psychiatrist and having to narrate the story as well. His accent went very well with his character persona. As for the other actors in the play, they were not as impressive. The young boys parents seemed to be trying to hard to act and had possibly broken there character once or twice. At one point I did not know if they were laughing because that is what they were supposed to do, or if they were laughing because they found something to be very funny.
On the other hand Joel Youngblom who played Allen Strang did a fantastic job. The boy really knew how to keep you entertained. There was not one point in the play where Youngblom messed up. Having to play such an odd character such as Allen Strang would be very difficult to have to stay in that sort of crazed mind for a whole two hour play, but Youngblom made it seem easy, and he is the reason for that play having the little suspense and entertainment that it did.
One thing that could have been different is having the characters sit off stage instead of on the stage while the play is going on. It was distracting and predictable on what or who was coming on next. At some points during the play the lighting must have been off because it seemed that the light was shining on characters that were not even supposed to be in the scene at that very moment. As for the horses being dressed in the little clothing that they were wearing, I felt was inappropriate for the audience to see. But the wired horse heads was a brilliant idea, and if it wasn't for the nudity; the five actors portrayed being horses very well.
Overall the play was not what it was talked up to be. There is a lot of room for improvement and the tickets should not have been so expensive for such a play.
The description of the play Equus given on the Duluth Play Ground’s web page did not come close to preparing the audience for what they were about to see. On opening night of the show, much of the audience left the theater disturbed. Some may have been disturbed by the acting and others may have been disturbed by the story.
Some of the actors did a fantastic job at providing believable characters, while others did not. Joel Youngblom, playing Alan Strang, and John Schmidt, playing Martin Dysart, had outstanding performances. Alan Strang was a troubled young boy who blinded five horses by stabbing them in the eyes. Because of this terrible crime, he ends up in a psychiatric hospital, where the show takes place. Martin Dysart is a psychiatrist and tries to treat Alan and figure out what led him to do such an awful thing. Youngblom does a great job at staying in character throughout the entire play. This can’t be easy for him to play someone so troubled. It seemed so real that it was hard for the audience to remember that he is probably very different in real life. It was disturbing in the beginning when Alan would creepily stare at the other actors and sing instead of answering the questions asked of him. Although it causes a horrible feeling in the audience members; that means that he played his part effectively. The audience can really feel with Dysart how difficult it is to treat a troubled boy when you can barely get him to tell you his story. Dysart kept doubting himself, wondering how he can treat Alan when he realizes he has problems as well and becomes jealous of Alan and the passion he possesses. There were a few mistakes throughout the night, which is expected on the opening night of a show. Hesther Salomon, played by Kelly Mullan had a few noticeable mistakes during the night. Even having to be reminded by someone off stage of what her line was once. Having the cast members who were not acting at the time was distracting for the audience.
The props in this play were done well. The horse costumes creatively represented the horses from Alan’s memories at the beach and at the stable. It was easy for the audience to imagine real horses in their mind to make the story come to life. The actors moving around the benches between scenes were not too distracting. They did it quickly enough that it did not pull focus away from the actors and the story. The stable, psychiatrist’s office, Alan’s bedroom, and Alan’s home were all easy to differentiate and did not confuse the audience at all.
Overall, the two main actors, Youngblom and Schmidt, did an excellent job. The story was very disturbing. This play was not as good as was expected.
Attending the show Equus on opening night was a mistake. There were very apparent mistakes throughout the entire production that overshadowed the solid performances by John Schmidt (as Martin Dysart) and Joel Youngblom (as Alan Strang).The premise of the performance was that the young Alan Strang had become a patient of Martin Dystart at a mental institution, due to his horrific acts of blinding five horses with a metal spike. The show carries along from circumstance to circumstance and eventually gets to the specific instance that led Alan to wind up in the institution in the first place. Alan was obviously a very disturbed child from the get-go, and Martin had his hands completely full with his new patient. Youngblom played his character with a combination of intense passion and borderline demonic possession that immediately and significantly raised the level of acting every time he entered the scene. Likewise, Schmidt portrayed the intelligence and wit you would come to expect from a doctor. However, Schmidt’s best achievement for the night was how well he was able to brew up the slight tingle of jealousy and envy his character had for Alan’s conviction and passion.
There were multiple missed lines that the director had to correct during the show, as well as lighting mistakes and miscues from the cast. Also, the entire cast sat on stage while the scenes were being performed and it became very easy to tell when something was about to change. The wire horse heads were an ingenious way to easily portray the beasts, however the half-nude performers underneath definitely left something else to be desired. The set was also being arranged a lot which stole the focus from the scene. The first act seemed like it would never end; as the performance got weirder and weirder and the more mistakes that came about made the act seemed infinite and painful to sit through. Finally the lights went out suddenly and a collective gasp of thankfulness came from the audience.
The theater itself was a good fit for the performance. It kept the cast and audience close and tried to keep it intimate. The set itself was very minimal and efficiently used the space. Multiple scenes were shown in multiple places and it was easy to follow for the most part. The seating was limited and therefore there was not the unusual disturbances attributed with a larger crowd. The play however got to be quite awkward, quite quick. With random vulgar language and the infamous scene between Alan and his lady friend stripping down to their skivvies unbeknownst to the audience, there was a definite level of cringing astonishment.
Overall, it was a disappointing and awkward performance that did not live up to its hype. The performances of Schmidt and Youngblom truly were the only bright spots in a production that could’ve used a few more weeks of tweaking and practice. Significant improvements in the placement and selectiveness of the secondary actors in the show would’ve helped to shore up the glaring weaknesses, as well as improved publicity stating the vulgarity and half nudity of the show.
Being a fan of the Harry Potter films and books, one might know who Daniel Radcliffe is. Radcliffe starred in the productions of Equus on Broadway and did an astonishing job. Equus, performed at the Play Ground in Duluth, MN brought wonder and revelation to its audiences this past week
Young Alan, (Joel Youngblom) plays a young boy who is mentally disturbed. He is recommended to Doctor Dysart a psychologist to have regular appointments with him to discuss the events that took place in Alan’s life. Alan eventually explained his past experiences with horses and how it led him to blinding five horses at the ranch he worked at. The performance took many turns as Alan’s parents, Frank and Dora Strang (Todd Larson and Julie Ahasay) stopped into Doctor Dysart’s office and revealed different pieces of evidence towards Alan’s secrets.
Walking into the Play Ground for the production, there was a painting gallery before the actual theater done by a local artist named Lee Zimmerman. These paintings were silk paintings and were quite different, but really set the mood for the play which was also atypical of other plays. The range of ages in Equus made the play more interesting, also. Seeing the main character, Alan Strang interact with his psychologist, Martin Dysart, really brought the attention of the audience to the different levels of skill the actors had. Also, Alan’s parents, Frank and Dora Strang interacted with Alan using many emotions which made them seem as if they were actually related.
The lighting during this particular play really accented the characters in a complimentary way. Since the set was so simple, dark, and slanted towards the audience, the lighting was absolutely critical. It was easy to see their faces and expressions during the performance. The lights were positioned on metal bars up above the stage and above the audience, placed at different angles according to where the stage was. In the second act there was a scene with the horses and the actors in the center of the stage. The lights were blue to represent the transition to night time, and they flashed on and off when there was an approaching thunderstorm. Overall, the lighting was effective in the space for the play.
Although the majority of the performance was positive; on opening night there were a few flaws. At one point, the actors messed up a certain scene with Doctor Dysart and Hesther and were instructed to go back and start over. The line mix-up made the flow of the performance choppy and made the audience go back and think about what had just happened. There were a few more times where the actors mispronounced words and stumbled over their lines, but towards the second act they cleaned up their performance.
If another chance came up to attend Equus, I would not spend fifteen dollars on the performance again. Most of the reviews on this play have been negative and are accurate. It was not put together very well and could have used more time for rehearsal.
On Friday, October 28 I saw the play “ Equus” written in 1973 by Peter Shaffer and presented by the Duluth Play Ground. This 1973 classic is based on true story where a 17 year old boy named Alan Strang (Joel Youngblom) who blinded six horses in a small town near London, United Kingdom. Stunned by these actions, a local magistrate referred the boy to Dr Martin Dysart (John Schmidt), a child psychiatrist to try and understand the cause of the boy’s actions.
During the show, I was fascinated by the performance of the Joel Youngblom. His articulation of words and appearance though not great, mimic that of an actual pathological troubled young man (Allan) he was playing and quite got applause from the audience. Other remarkable performance was that of John Schmidt as Dr Martin Dysart. His patience, voice and body movement were calming and created an environment of Doctor and patient relationship leading to Allan opening up.
Additionally, organizers did a good job in designing masks used as horse heads and cloth. The lighting changed occasionally to reflect different times of the day and places thus letting the audience follow the event from the start to the end.
Apart from the few positives mention above, this play had some shortcomings. Actors/Actress had not mastered the text well enough and few of them forgot their lines. Couple of scenes did not go far as per the script or were missing. For instance, the sex scene was too unreal and Allan’s costume could have use some color design to reflect his nakedness while still being appropriate to the audience.
This page contains a single entry by Mark Harvey published on October 13, 2011 11:21 AM.
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