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