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.

 

A Little Bit of Trivia: My Acting Career So Far and My Upcoming Plays

May 1, 2019
At home in Aztec, NM

I have done a lot of public speaking in my day.  From 1985 to 1996, public speaking was one of my primary duties in my career as a naval intelligence officer. From 1998 to 2007, it was one of my primary duties working for the Interpretation division in Padre Island National Seashore.

In 1997, when I had been only a short time out of the Navy, I lived in my home town of Frankfort, KY, where I was trying to establish careers as a photographer and a writer. Neither was going anywhere initially, and, long story short, I joined the National Park Service. While living in Frankfort, I happened upon an opportunity to do the head shots for a small, local theater group.  I became friends with them and before I knew it, was playing roles in two Tennessee Williams one-act plays, which were performed on the same nights.

The first was the role of the porter in “Portrait of a Madonna“.  I did have some dialogue and I seem to recall doing well at the role, though the play ran for only a few nights over twenty years ago.  Here is a production by the Chicago Actors Studio, if you would like to see their version.  Ours wasn’t taped to my knowledge.

The second role was as Winston Tutwiler, the husband/drunk in “Lord Byron’s Love Letter“.  My role consisted almost entirely of sitting on a sofa and being inebriated. I am not certain if I had any dialogue.  It was fun though. I drank a considerable amount at that time, so I was a natural to portray a drunk, though I didn’t drink any for the role. If I recall correctly, I portrayed this role before my first appearance in “Portrait of a Madonna”.  I was in a hurry to dress in costume before walking out on stage, and being naturally absent-minded, I forgot to zip up my fly!  As soon as I made my entrance, I was to head to a sofa and flop down, half-heartedly listening to the other characters. It was then I noticed my fly being open. But realizing that this is not an uncommon occurrence among drunks, I stayed in character and blatantly zipped up as if it had been planned all along. I think I got a few giggles out of the audience.  Here’s one performance of it.  I don’t know who is performing in this video.  My role was that of the guy in the green shirt.

I found acting to be a lot of fun.  I would love to do it again.  The stage is really quite addicting. That’s probably why I have become fascinated recently with writing plays.

I have completed two small plays and I am currently working on two more.

The two completed ones are adaptations of my previously published short stories “Murder by Plastic” and “The Last Sane Man“.  Both should be around ten minutes on stage. I am looking now for somewhere to have them produced.

The next up in length is one called “Incommunicado”. I have developed a different vision for it than I have had previously.  I conceived of it maybe a year or two ago. It was originally about a man named Quinn Gallagher (yes, the same Quinn Gallagher as in my short stories “The Scent” and “The Slightest of Indiscretions”). In this play, Quinn has gone off to a ghost town in New Mexico’s Gila Mountains to write and celebrate being able to drink again after being on the wagon for a year after a DUI.  He intends to stay drunk for the weekend.  However, he finds he has enjoyed being sober, and this conflicts with his desire to drink again to escape life’s problems.  One way is easy but ultimately self-destructive, while the other means tough self-discipline, but is ultimately more productive and rewarding.  I originally thought of this more of an extended soliloquy, though I see now that I will have to bring in one or two of the local townspeople to add action and bring in more perspectives.  I hope to have this play last about thirty minutes. I am shooting to have this done by the end of May.

The last and longest play I am working on is entitled “Centaurs”.  It is about a man and a woman who are having an affair.  Both are married intellectuals, but they find their intellectual sides conflicting with their animalistic desires. They have decided to keep this relationship purely physical, but they find themselves falling in love. I intend for this play to be about 90 minutes in length and be three acts with a lot of audience involvement.

I will try to update this website regularly about my stage work.

Brace Yourself

Probably most, if not all, my long-standing friends will be shocked tonight to find out that I plan to attend a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” tonight at the San Juan College Little Theatre without being goaded into it at gun point y my wife.

I have long heard of this play, and this is my first opportunity to see it. The first reason I am going is to satisfy my decades-old curiosity. The second reason is to learn more about the Theatre and the craft of playwrighting. As you may know, I am working on a play of my own entitled “Centaurs”, therefore I am taking every chance I come across to see a play.

I intend to write a critique of “The Vagina Monologues” within the coming days and will post it here.