Dan Jeannotte (below) and Paul-Antoine Taillefer (Photo: Andrée Lanthier)
Of Gods and Horses
Shaffer's frightening tale gets another airing at Segal
by Sarah Deshaies
Equus—the title brings to mind horses, nudity, eroticism, Daniel Radcliffe. It’s a string of buzzwords enough to entice anyone to the theatre. Behind them, Peter Shaffer’s story is an erotic, suspenseful look at psychiatry and religious worship.
In a ripped-from-the-headlines moment, the playwright came across a tragic story in the news; a teenage boy had blinded six horses in a town outside of London.
Supposedly, without knowing the circumstances around the real-life incident, Shaffer constructed his own backstory to what could have caused an outburst like that.
His teenage boy, Alan Strang, is sent to an institution after the incident. Martin Dysart is the doctor who attempts to unravel the mystery behind the 17-year-old stablehand’s attack on the animals with a horse pick.
Key incidents lead young Alan to form a worshipful attitude towards horses; the smell and the feel of the animals has an erotic pull for him.
Dysart slowly unspools Alan’s deranged story: his illiteracy, his loving but religious mother and a gruff, socialist father who forbids television. Key incidents lead young Alan to form a worshipful attitude towards horses; the smell and the feel of the animals has an erotic pull for him. He lands a job in a stable, where he forms a special attachment to one horse, Nugget.
Once every three weeks, Alan dares to take naked, unbridled midnight rides on Nugget. Actor Dan Jeannotte incarnates Alan with both the twisted energy and shy, awkward adolescence required of the role. His reincarnation of Alan’s midnight rides is electric.
But Jean Marchand holds the play together as Dysart, the doctor who is perhaps as out of touch with reality as his patients. His heavy workload curing broken children, and his loveless marriage to a dentist, are finally getting to him. As their friendship grows and we tease Alan’s story out, Dysart starts to envy the teenager his passion.
Marchand slowly and masterfully reveals Dysart’s loss of control. With him onstage for most of the play, we’re in his hands.
In a sensual, vibrant turn, male dancers embody the horses in skintight costumes and silver body paint.
Director Domy Reiter-Soffer is familiar with the story; the well-known, versatile artist choreographed a dance production of Equus at the Met in New York City. Supposedly, he was recruited by Bryna Wasserman, former artistic director at the Segal, after she met him in Israel last summer. Seeing his New York interpretation sealed the deal for Wasserman, according to Segal’s artistic producer Paul B. Flicker.
l-r Simon Vermeulen, Paul-Antoine Taillefer,
(Photo: Andree Lanthier)
Visually, the Segal Centre’s take on Equus is sparse and spacious. In a sensual, vibrant turn, male dancers embody the horses in skintight costumes and silver body paint. The horses’ movements become choreographed, animalistic ballet. Nugget, the horse at the centre of the mystery, is portrayed by a magnetic Paul-Antoine Taillefer.
The music, tight and suspenseful, is another highlight.
Curiously, the play lightened in the second act, with audiences cracking up. The closer we got to the conclusion, the funnier the play seemed to get; depending on how you look at it, it could be the cast relaxing on opening night, or the tone getting softer when we should be climaxing.
But the final scene is indelible, like the story of a boy who loves horses but is driven to mutilate them.
Equus runs at the Segal Centre until Oct. 2. The show lasts 2h30 min, including a 15-minute intermission. There is nudity.