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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Equus

Photo courtesy of Village Scene
We forever know that we are watching a play and, because of this, the mystery of Alan Strang cannot matter to us.
by Rachel Zuroff

Village Scene Productions is currently presenting Equus at the Rialto Theatre. Equus tells the story of the disillusioned psychiatrist’s, Martin Dysart, quest to understand the reasons that lead the 17 year old Alan Strang to blind six horses. In seeking the answer, Equus deals with the themes of religion, sexuality and what it means to be normal.

Director Paul Van Dyck has staged Equus in three-quarters round on the floor of the Rialto theatre with only some of the action taking place on the proscenium stage. The set and props are minimal. The actors sit among the audience members, themselves watching the play. These devices should lead to intimacy between the audience and the action, but does not. Instead, the highly stylized acting feels forced. It never gathers the audience up into itself and persuades us to accept its lie. We forever know that we are watching a play and, because of this, the mystery of Alan Strang cannot matter to us; it is too easy to dismiss. Van Dyck wants us to question why Strang did what he did. He wants us, as the audience, to participate in the judgement passed on Strang, to question our assumptions about the role and place of normalcy, worship and faith in modern society, but it never succeeds, because it is too easy to answer: Strang did what he did because the playwright wrote him as such.

Thus, despite Noel Burton’s superb elocution as Martin Dysart, Bobby Lamont’s tender vulnerability as Alan Strang and the exquisitely choreographed movements of the chorus members, Equus ultimately fails in being the catalyst leading us to the questions Van Dyck desired us to pose.

Equus is at the Rialto and runs from April 13-24
Two and a half hours; for mature audiences only.  


  1. I couldn't disagree more. Noel Burton and Bobby Lamont were spell-binding and all the supporting roles were wonderfully portrayed. There isn't much to work with at the Rialto regarding lighting, the sound is a terrific challenge with 2 domed ceilings and the (right) decision to avoid distracting body mics that would only spoil the intimacy, and the seating arrangement limited acting space and set/prop design. However Paul and his expert team of highly creative designers used the space and all of the Rialto's resources to great advantage.

    I heard one media journalist say that she isn't fond of the play, though she's seen it twice before, but this was the first time she really got into it and enjoyed it ... she couldn't say enough good things about every aspect of the production. She was doubtful that the Segal (with unlimited resources at their disposal) would be able to produce a more effective production next fall. (I'm sure we will all be very curious to see how that director chooses to work with the material.)

    I also spoke with one of the theatre community's mover/shakers at intermission, an artist of extremely discerning taste, and she was very impressed with the production.

    If anything, I found that the text itself was the problem: though it is not an old script, it has already become somewhat outdated. Our collective North American neuroses have made us all so psycho-savvy that the pondering and self-doubt of the shrink is a bit over-written and obvious, tugging at the tension instead of adding to it.

    I say see it ... whatever insignificant weaknesses this production may have, they will iron out during the run - it can only get better so don't miss out.

  2. I feel that this reviewer would do well to read some Brecht and learn about the Alienation effect.

  3. Now, now, Nanette - don't be snarky. You don't need to study Brecht to understand if a play/production works or now. I do know what alienation effect is and although I have not seen this production, I have seen several others and as with all productions if the play is submerged by the effect, it becomes about alienation and not about the questions asked. The effect is the thing, so to speak. When alienation takes over any production, the audience might as well be home watching TV. I find the most interesting aspect of Rachel's review is the question it poses about whether the play is still as important as when it was created (as it was no doubt a monument at the time).

  4. I agree with the question of whether this play is as effective now as it was originally.

    I confess, I haven't seen this production either. I didn't intend to be snarky, it just seemed to me as though the author was describing something very specific, without knowing what exactly she was describing.


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