Tag: Equus

July 10, 2020 Update: Equus and Writing Incommunicado

Photo of a poster for EquusI started reading Equus awhile back, and, even though I was enjoying it, put it aside for whatever reason and didn’t get back to it until a few days ago.

This is a fascinating story, definitely drama and tragedy, but also something of horror as well. It is based on an actual event the author Peter Shaffer heard about in 1973. He wrote the play shortly thereafter. If you are not familiar with the story, it is set in England in the early 70’s. A psychiatrist interviews a 17-year-old boy, Alan Strang, who blinded six horses. Initially, the boy responds only in advertising jingles, but gradually he is able to tell of the events and motivations that led to his horrendous act. I have never seen Equus performed, though I would love to. The staging in the book is quite imaginative and I would love to see how it’s carried out.

I saw the film version with Richard Burton, which dates from the mid-70’s (as best I recall). It’s good, but not as good as the film adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in which Burton also starred.

As you probably know, since July 1, I have put aside Shadows and Stars to work on my play Incommunicado. It’s about a man who retreats to a ghost town in the Gila Mountains of New Mexico for a drunken weekend of writing and escape, but ends up fighting personal demons.

I picked up Equus again primarily to help me format the script for Incommunicado, but going through the story again is eye-opening. I see nuances I did not notice before. I also now appreciate even more the creativity Peter Shaffer must have had when writing Equus. I also appreciate the staging more, because I can see how his minimalist design focuses the audience’s collective mind on the essential events of the play’s events and the Alan Strang’s story. I can also appreciate how Shaffer knew something of psychology or was able to learn it quickly in order to create a plausible, intriguing backstory for Alan Strang. Even Alan’s nonsensical, endless recitation of jingles has a reason behind it.

Selfie with Lotus in background near Arkansas Post, September 4, 2019

This will help me formulate some ideas for Incommunicado. I have got most of the first act down and parts of the second and third (I had originally planned Incommunicado to be a one-act play, but that won’t be long enough to get out my ideas). Most of the first act switches between monologue and soliloquy, with the main character, Quinn Gallagher, often addressing the audience directly. In acts two and three the focus will be on the dialogue between Quinn and a local woman named Suzie. Each act represents one day of Quinn’s weekend. Act 1 is his arrival on Friday. Act 2 is Saturday. Act 3 is his departure on Sunday. Of course, I am trying to make Quinn complex and intriguing. I am learning though, that for Quinn to have a complex and intriguing conversation with Suzie, Suzie must also be complex and intriguing and there must be some form of conflict either between them or between them and the world or some combination thereof. Otherwise, the play devolves into Quinn moralizing, philosophizing, and lecturing.

I am taking a minimalist approach to the set design and to the number of characters. In addition to Quinn and Suzie, there is only one other, Ruth Baxter, the owner of the Bed and Breakfast where Quinn stays. I might be more imaginative in set design now that I am reviewing Equus.

Of course, during this, I am also toying with how I can market the play now, and that consists mainly of mentioning in these posts whenever I can or in conversation. Choosing the topics discussed in the play will also help its marketability. I don’t cheapening the play by mentioning specific products (like I have seen in Stephen King stories), but choosing topics that have a universal appeal or to which many people can relate. For example, battling alcoholism is a major topic of discussion in Incommunicado.

If you get the chance, by all means see the play version of Equus (the option I recommend the strongest), read the book, or see the movie. There has been a recent production of Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe, and movie produced of it, but I have unfortunately not had the pleasure of seeing either. I will try to see both as soon as I can.

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A public service reminder from Phil Slattery
A public service reminder from Phil Slattery

 

Review: “Equus” the Movie (1977)

On Sunday, I watched Equus (1977) starring Richard Burton and Peter Firth. This is a powerful movie.

When I first heard about Equus, I thought it would focus entirely on the character of Alan Strang, an English teenager who blinds six horses and is sent to a mental institution by the courts. However, the movie (I have not seen the play, though I have started reading its script) seems to focus more on the character or Dr. Dysart, the psychiatrist who analyzes Alan Strang to find out his motives for blinding the horses in the stables where he worked.  In short, he was insane, but what made him insane?

I won’t go into a lot of detail about what Dr. Dysart finds or how he finds it, because that is the mystery to be solved.  Watching how both these characters change is fascinating. The movie analyzes both, perhaps giving a bit more emphasis on Dr. Dysart. I think this is because Dr. Dysart represents an educated audience looking into the soul of Alan Strang. What Dysart finds effects him deeply just as I think it effects an audience deeply, because what Dr. Dysart finds makes him examine his own relationship to the world and to God as well as reflecting on his own existence.  At one point, Dr. Dysart begins to so intensely understand Alan’s viewpoint that Ithe tells Mrs. Dysart that he actually envies Alan.

Both the movie and the play were written by Peter Shaffer, who won a Tony award for it and for his following play Amadeus, which was made into a much more successful movie than Equus.

The movie was directed by Sydney Lumet. An interesting difference between the movie and the play is that the movie is staged very realistically in offices, homes, a stable, etc. but the the play’s script has the stage set in a very minimalist, in a sense, abstract fashion. I would love to see a performance of Equus.  The minimalism would keep the audiences mind(s) focused on the characters and their interrelationships and not on the set or on anything that is peripheral or tangential and of no importance to the narrative.

I have to wonder how Peter Shaffer developed the character of Alan Strang. He wrote an exceptional portrayal of a madman and how he became mad. I understand that he based the play on a news article he read about a young Englishman who blinded six horses and then started loo,king into that story. That character is brought to life vividly by Peter Firth. I have to ask myself as well how Peter Firth developed his portrayal of Alan Strang.  The ideas of Shaffer and Firth on this character seemed to mesh wonderfully for an awe-inspiring performance.

It is interesting to note that, in one sense, this movies shows how the change in one man stimulated the change in another man.

I am no actor, but to me the acting in this movie was top-notch. Richard Burton gave a performance that on par with his performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Peter Firth played Alan Strang.

All in all, this is a fascinating movie with strong performances that reach deeply into the characters’ souls and will very likely reach into the souls of the audience as well and cause them to reflect on their own existences just as Dr. Dysart does.