JOHN FISHER CELEBRATES PETER SHAFFER'S EXTRAORDINARY “EQUUS”
IN A YEAR THAT WE LOST THIS ICONIC PLAYWRIGHT
Peter Shaffer's celebrated drama "EQUUS" has had a remarkably long and vibrant life on stages all over the world since its premiere in 1973. Theatre Rhinoceros, the longest running LGBT theatre in the nation, is presenting this polished production of Peter Shaffer's EQUUS at the Eureka Theatre only through December 10th. Artistic Director John Fisher, who also appears as the Doctor - talks about the playwright, “When Peter Shaffer died this summer it was officially revealed that he was gay and had shared his life with a partner. Rather than push the play further in the direction of “gayness” we’ve tried to play it “straight”- we’ve let the text’s inherent homosexuality remain present just as I have always felt the playwright’s homosexual concern was always present.”
Fisher has cast an accomplished, capable and compelling cast to create this drama. He took a risk with a first time actor, Morgan Lange, who is superb as the troubled 17 year old Alan Strang. The cast also includes local favorites Rudy Guerrero as the adult men, Ann Lawler as the adult women and the exceptional Iris Haas-Biel, who is also assistant director, as young female roles. Fisher has streamlined the cast who also make up the stable as the three horses that torment young Strang. EQUUS is the story of a young man who has been placed in a mental hospital following a horrific act of violence against horses. Alan has blinded six horses at a stable where he worked. It is a horrific image, and the boy speaks at first only in commercial jingles and long stares. The play unravels a tangle of misplaced religious tension, guilt over sexual awakening, and stress within his family relationships. The boy's act makes the treating psychiatrist, Dr Dysart, question his own motives and life in ethereal ways.
Pictured left to right: Ann Lawler as Trooper, Morgan Lange as Alan, Rudy Guerrero* as Nugget, and John Fisher* as Dr. Dysart - Photo by David Wilson *Member Actors Equity Association
Imaginatively staged by Fisher with the horses represented by large, woven-wire heads atop powerful hoofs. The scenic design primarily created by a minimal set by Gilbert Johnson and dressing and highly evocative lighting and sound design by Sean Keehan. We are taken away from the simple reality of the world and transported to erotic themes of sin, redemption, self-worth, self-loathing, and desire. We discover the powers of imagination to deliver us into a universe of unimaginable beauty and terror. None of the characters in this drama are simple, and each of them share all of the play's themes in wide range and individual ways. The drama pulls us deeper and deeper into the questions, and delivers us to a place where those questions can only be answered by each of us, or not answered at all. Fisher skilled direction adds the gay subtext as Dysart longs for the teen’s passion, and his concern and care for the boy is important.
I have seen this play in many different performance spaces, and nothing suits it quite so well as the small, intimate Eureka Theatre. Fisher is a director actor who always knows exactly what he's trying to accomplish and with this compelling cast, the smart staging and unrelenting dramatic momentum, it is both moving and disturbing, exactly as it should be. The two central roles, the young man Alan Strang and the psychiatrist Martin Dysart are the key to this drama working.
Morgan Lange does an extraordinary performance creating a young man who is both unique and troubled. What I liked best about his performance was that it never felt overdone, never felt like he was working to be an actor, a stage character, but rather the kind of common youth that we have all been, except for his distinctive and destructive internal reality. Dialect Coach Treacy Corrigan kept the small cast in perfect pitch with three English accents including a Manchester and Liverpool accent. Costume Designer Daisy Neske-Dickerson kept the main characters in earth tones, easily changing their look with white doctor jackets or tweed jackets. The horses are powerful complete with the hoof shows straps and belts. Dickerson kept Fisher’s look dapper and English, and the boy in a blue tops and denim pants. The main set based on the horse stable that spins for one of Stang’s nightmares was built by Bert van Aalsberg and Sebastian Atardo.
As the psychiatrist, Dysart, Fisher is stunning, again entirely convincing without feeling like he was over-acting or forcing the drama. I was impressed with the way this professional man of stature becomes less substantial than the young man he treats. Dysart is drawn deeper and deeper into Alan's story. The doctor is a man of many questions and few answers, who questions his own marriage and that makes his pursuit of the truth more engaging. Alan's parents, played by the excellent and passionate Ann Lawler as his mother and a strikingly realistic Rudy Guerrero as his father. They have their own agendas which have led them to this point where they don't really know who their son is, or how they have brought him to this place.
I was also very impressed by, Iris Haas-Biel, who plays Elvar the young woman who opens Alan's passion and also embodies his mental downfall. She is deep in Alan's internal drama, and yet she is the most authentic character in the story. The three actors double for Dysart assistant and a nurse. Guerrero, Lawler, and Biel are also brilliant as the horses, with wire masks, metal shoes shaped like hoofs, and authentic to the animals. Lange climbs onto Guerrero in a sublime ballet of nightmare, sexual tension and beauty under Keehans exquisite lighting.
EQUUS has been an impressive hit for many years. It is a play that must be exceptionally well done or it will be a complete failure. At its core, it must be about truth and how each of these people find and define that. No small task. This production is exceptionally well done and I left the theater both disturbed and satisfied, touched by its humanity and impressed by Fisher’s theatrical imagination. Morgan Lange has truly launched his career with this powerful production and with the “light fair” of theatre during the holiday season, this is a vivid, thoughtful evening of theatre. It celebrates the brilliant playwright Peter Shaffer who we lost this year.
Theatre Rhinoceros Presents
By Peter Shaffer
Directed by John Fisher
and Iris Hass-Biel
Featuring Morgan Lange, Rudy Guerrero, John Fisher,
Ann Lawler and Iris Haas-Biel
Through December 10th
Two Hours with one intermission
Eureka Theatre -
215 Jackson St., SF, CA 94111
Tickets at www.TheRhino.org
Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/Theatre-Rhinoceros
Photos by David Wilson.
Morgan Lange, Rudy Guerrero, John Fisher