Archive for Anthony Hopkins

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: The Cocktail Party

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Drama.

Title: The Cocktail Party (1949)
Playwright: T.S. Eliot
Time Period: Modernism
Plot: Several West End Londoners gather in the Chamberlaynes’ drawing-room following a cocktail party. Left to serve their guests alone, Edward Chamberlayne meets a mysterious stranger who offers his assistance in helping save their troubled marriage.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 1, Sc. 1, Ln. 333-335]

UNIDENTIFIED GUEST
It will do you no harm to find yourself ridiculous.
Resign yourself to be the fool you are.
That’s the best advice
I can give you.

[Act 1, Sc. 3, Ln. 88-89]

EDWARD
Oh, my God, what shall we talk about?
We can’t sit here in silence.

[Act 1, Sc. 3, Ln. 322-325]

LAVINIA
Everything I tried only made matters worse,
And the moment you were offered something that you wanted
You wanted something else. I shall treat you very differently
In
[the] future.

london-night-1950

London (West End), 1950s

It is soooo refreshing to (finally) read a good story. I can’t even remember the last time I felt this giddy upon finishing a book. (Good stories do that to me; how ‘bout you?) I guess this here blog series is gonna be alright after all… And I’m thankful for that! Last month’s stage play put me in a really dark place. (Bad stories do that to me; how ‘bout you?) Talking became a chore. My jeans didn’t feel as crisp. I started back eating bread. Everything was not awesome. Life!—How fast things snowball… But like his Duderino’s ethos as to the way Life is: “Strikes and gutters.” Yes, why, yes indeed! Life is, at any given moment, as simple as that­—that of a forward roll of a thirteen-pound bowling ball down a waxed, wooden lane. Not necessarily a strike but the aim is to hit something as opposed to nothing at all. So, here I am; confidence renewed, faith restored, out of the gutter and lined up for a spare!—and all the more thankful to finally have some good chi flowing through me. This series’ll be done in no time!

st_anthony_of_padua

St. Anthony of Padua

It being close to the Holiday Season (November, Thanksgiving; December, Christmas [and Kwanzaa]), I wanted to do a side-by-side to cap things off. By that I mean, I wanted to review two stage plays: one of them an original, and the other an adaptation. Bad form on me though; I wrote last month that I’d be going Greek (I later edited this portion.) but in truth I had the “adapted” material slotted for November. It’s no surprise now but The Cocktail Party by T. S. Eliot is somewhat of a loose adaption of Alcestis by Euripides (Feel free to jump ahead if you like.) — and as “Thank you!” to You this Holiday Season, I decided to let you in on what some of my favorite stage plays are. Playwrights actually. I absolutely love T.S. Eliot! I would guess that most of you are familiar with him through his poetry; this one in particular: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). Old Possum’s would later be used as the source material for the long-running Broadway musical Cats (1981). I’m familiar with Eliot through a number of his essays and Murder in the Cathedral (1939), an earlier stage play of his which sits high on my list of all-time favorites. (Yes, it’s that good!) As mentioned way back in March and echoed again in June, I’m rather hush-hush about the material I read (for the most part). But ‘tis the season and offering up one of my personal favs might give you a better understanding of the kind of material I’m always on the lookout for…

TS Eliot

T.S. Eliot, himself

Well, what’s unique about Cocktail is how stripped-down the material is but at the same time how crammed it is with clever (and perhaps indulgent) homages to timeless works. Eliot borrows liberally from the Holy Bible, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Prometheus Unbound, The Waste Land (his own), Murder in the Cathedral (his own), Sweeney Agonistes (his own), The Family Reunion (his own), East Coker (his own), The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (his own), Descent into Hell (his buddy’s), The Extasie, A Woman Killed with Kindness, the Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Divine Comedy (Paradiso in particular), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Die Verwandlung [The Metamorphosis], Fathers and Sons, Res Publica [The Republic], Piers Plowman, Carmina Gadelica; also some wise sayings from Socrates and Buddha, and a few plot mechanics from William Congreve and the Comedy of Manners—and, of course, the above mentioned Alcestis which I’ll discuss more in-depth next month. (Eliot basically did the Tarantino before Tarantino did the Tarantino.)

1950s_solitaire

Some say Patience, I say Solitaire

All this mic-checking of other people’s material caused a lot of ire among Eliot’s literary peers (and a few of his friends) in the play’s heyday. (I seriously doubt the plebs read any of the works mentioned above; I’m aware of about seven of them, and much of what I’ve listed have insanely high page counts.) And that was pretty much the only significant scratch against The Cocktail Party—that Eliot filched “sourced” so much of his dialogue from other people’s work that the play’s credibility was somewhat strained. Oh, and the characters—whose origins are rooted in farce; as Eliot was also wanting to satirize the first-world problems of London’s West End circa 1950—start off in something grounded in reality (and at times witty) only to become grand sermonizers and soap-boxers as the play moves forward, especially in the middle of Act Two. (As a lover of monologues, I was in hog heaven. The fact that they were heavy with Christian undertones and philosophical headiness didn’t all that much bother me.) Interestingly enough, Eliot later defended himself against the “sourcing” claim, stating that he merely did this to keep theater critics from picking up the scent of the play’s main source of inspiration, which again, is Alcestis. Should you read The Cocktail Party, that’s your call me to make. Me, myself—I have about a thousand other questions…

gin_tonic1

Gin + Tonic + Lime = Yes!

The play begins at the tail end of a cocktail party at the flat (home) of Edward & Lavinia Chamberlayne. Edward has been left stranded with several guest—and none of these stragglers have even thought of starting for the door. So the gin continues to flow, the hors d’oeuvres continue to be passed, and Edward’s patience continues to be tried—so much so that he fibs a bit on the whereabouts of his wife Lavinia who’s missing in action. (She’s away in the country tending to a fake sick aunt.) Just shy of newlyweds, their five-year marriage is already on the rocks; though this information is unknown to us early on. It takes minimal effort on an Uninvited Guest’s part to extract this bit of information from Edward a few moments later when they’re alone. Funny thing though: the Uninvited Guest’s nosiness is subtler than that of Julia’s, the Chamberlaynes’ spinster friend and renowned West End socialite who’s still lingering around. (She questions people whenever she damn well pleases.) Hell, Julia has no understanding of the word rude and neither does Alexander, another West Ender high up in the upper crust of London society. He too has yet to start home. It’s as if these three are all on the same team or something… Unable to cancel the party, poor Edward had to handle this small group—and others maybe—all on his own. They party finally over, Edward later finds himself in his drawing-room, defeated and dispirited, talking to a complete a stranger about his marital woes. Later in that same drawing-room, Edward’s young friend Peter—an aspiring script-writer!—tells Edward his problems which are also of the love variety. Young Peter made the timeless mistake of putting himself in the friend zone thinking that that move would put him on the quickest route to a woman’s under garments. Too bad the man Peter’s laying this heavy burden down upon has already been “down that road.” But at least Edward’s being a good sport about it and hearing Peter out. Better to let the young buck down easy and keep the fisticuffs to a minimum—because you never know how young guys are going to react especially when they think that they’re “In love.” Oh, and that young woman would be Celia, who vanished with everyone else earlier. And like most side-chicks, Celia’s aching to be the star of the show. But “cosmically” there might be some thwarting of her master plan.

1950's_hors_doeuvres

More chips! More dip!

“The same thing but new” is an axiom sang out across the creative spectrum. It would be too easy for one to just roll their eyes at infidelity. I too have seen my fair share of it, but it’s the introspection that Eliot gives to both Celia and Edward that makes this play something worthwhile. (I mean, every time these two meet it’s fireworks.) I didn’t throw the book, but boy was I close—again! The play keeps the locations to a minimum (the Chamberlayne’s flat and a Consulting Room) and the storyline is fairly simple: a troubled married couple’s interactions with their acquaintances over the course of two years or so roughly, some of whom may or may not have god-like qualities about them; one in particular (the Uninvited Guest) agreeing to reunite said wife (Lavinia) and husband (Edward) — free of charge it seems. (Man, we’ll just have to wait until next month so that I can touch more on this.) However, The Cocktail Party does commit one major #TINWIPA no-no and that is having an awkward time jump in the narrative (two years!). Again, easily dismissed when the characters and the story are both complex.

gin_tonic3

Gin me!

Truth be told, old-ass Julia got underneath my skin—a lizzot! She pops up everywhere, prying for the sake of prying. This lady has got to be the noisiest character I’ve ever encountered in a story. But she did grow on me after a while as did Lavinia who definitely knows how to deflate a man’s ego… which makes for a great segue.

Like Camille, the “plot” of the story comes into place by the end of the first act. And much of what the characters say (and not do) after that point is where the story (tension) lies… To go into detail would ruin a lot of it for you (Act III is dope!); and you’ve seen a love triangle before. But what made me sit up in my seat was Eliot’s treatment of Edward. Edward is not the prototypical man of his Age (1950s), and him questioning his place in the universe and wanting to escape a loveless marriage would’ve have been quite striking to theater-goers. (Of course, men and women separated but not in great volume like today.) Men of Edward’s era rarely if ever thought of themselves as individuals (not publicly at least) and happily signed up for whatever society was dishing out. If it was go to work: men marched right into the factories; go to war: then hand me my damn rifle!; get married and start a family: on it!

chirstmas beetle

Metaphor, or Insult… Hm?

But watching Edward come into his own (self-actualization) made me painfully aware of something the men of my Age (A.D. 2017; some late Gen-Xers and many Millennials) have embraced fully for one; it’s also a luxury we don’t necessarily take for granted, but we really don’t have a clue on hard it must’ve been for men in Edward’s day to say fugg it! and go for self and self only. If Edward were living today he’d definitely be MGTOW. I would have liken him to having the same epiphany that Kevin Spacey (Oy, vey Kevin Spacey *deep sigh*) had early on as Lester Burnham in the movie American Beauty. (Films like The Matrix, Everything Must Go, Office Space, and Fight Club also come to mind.) Here’s a quick back and forth between Edward and the side-chick:

[CELIA: I don’t think I care for advice from you, Edward:
You are not entitled to take any interest
Now, in my future. I only hope you’re competent
To manage your own. But if you are not in love
And never have been in love with Lavinia,
What is it that you want?*]

(* = I provided the underline.)

Me answering for Edward: To have a little harem of maybe four or five hot twenty-five-year-olds on the side. Less responsibility, a less stressful job, and only to live off of what I absolutely need. A minimal existence. Also, a respectable gun and/or book collection, and perhaps a few other manly hobbies like billiards, cigars, or wild game hunting. A solid workout routine. Oh, and a better nest egg, and less friends, and less interaction with “dumb” people. And less you (Celia) unless you want in to my harem…

Sorry, I get carried away sometimes. Much of the above was me being cynical. But, no, Edward’s actual response is this:

[EDWARD: I am not sure.
The one thing of which I am relatively certain,
Is that only since this morning
I have met myself as a middle-aged man
Beginning to know what it is to feel old.]

Celia, in the middle of all this, belittles Edward by calling him a beetle. And with that yet another women stuffs a man back into the role of provider.

tray_glasses

A toast… To???

I’ll lay off the gender ish for now and close by saying that this play is very much relevant in today’s world—albeit slightly. Also, Eliot was doing the whole Art-Imitating-Life shtick here. IRL, Eliot’s wife died and during their whole time together he had been hella close to a young lady who thought that dude would remarry her when wifey was no longer in the picture. Well, she guessed wrong. So, it appears the Mr. Eliot went his own way. Interesting… But the fact remains that many (men) are waking up to the peculiarities of the institution of Marriage—especially now that the State and the Courts have gotten way too involved. And most have sought out to better understand their personal relationship with the Universe, spiritually, religiously, astrally (it’s a word now), and secularly (and this is a word now too). Of course, there are major (societal) ramifications to all of this, but my generation can’t help but question all of these things; we’ll deal with the cause & effect later. Strict marriage and even stricter religion don’t have the quite hold they once did—but they’re still lingering. Yet something tells me that neither of these will be the norm from now on… All righty, boys and girls and aliens. I’m looking down the barrel of three intense workout days to make room for the turkey and pumpkin pie I plan on engorging myself on. Next month we wrap this series up and we’ll talk 2018 in 2018. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til December…

 

Rating: 4/5

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Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #2 | Equus

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #2

I do not often weep: for not only do my thoughts on matters pertaining to American culture (art) daily, hell hourly, sink to depths “too deep for tears” — but also, I believe that all minds which have contemplated such matters as intensely as I have done, must, for their own protection from utter despondency, hold some undying belief that the overall future and well-being of American culture (art) will one day be free of suffering. On these accounts, I am weary at this phase in life: and, as I have said, I do not often weep… Yet here I am, in my feelings once again, though this time much more even-keeled and moderate: and often, when I wander at this time around Hollywood, past the eateries, theaters (Pantages, Palladium) and tourist traps shops that line Hollywood Blvd. or along the much quieter Theater Row (Santa Monica Blvd.; same flair), each district lit up by bright, attention-grabbing signs, and hear the lively conversations of those I stroll by or see huddled together on the sidewalks outside of the theaters which years ago sated me, I shed a single, metaphorical “tear” and smile to myself over the other-worldliness of the scenery which so abruptly and so unsympathetically has separated me from being one with American culture (art) at the moment. How it happened, the reader should already know from my previous “incident”; however, there is still more remaining to this introductory narration…

Not long after the period of the last “incident” I recorded, I had the unfortunate opportunity of meeting a gentleman who might possibly be the worst instructor teaching at the community college level—at any grade level—and barring the fourth grade, having to sit through his “lectures” was the most excruciating time I’ve ever spent in a classroom. Several members of the faculty sang his praises and in their eyes, he could do no wrong. One would’ve expected rose petals to be flung at his feet every time he walked the halls from the way he was lauded by his peers. One female faculty member in particular left me mouth open and speechless over her adoration for him. The man had thrown a hex on her long before I arrived on campus—so there was absolutely nothing I could say to her to prove to her otherwise that this man was, excuse my French: le piece of fecal matter. On our walk to the Business Department office to make print-outs for our midterms was when I decided to voice my opinion. I had had enough—and something had to give goddammit! I respectfully told her that she shouldn’t be so quick to fall for every kind, old, black man that knows how to stack his words. I said that the black men of his generation had perfected the gift of gab and that it was like honey to the ears of the white men of his era who would much rather see black men holding out tin cups and sitting in the gutter talking to themselves in a drunken stupor or swaying back and forth in a warm summer breeze dangling from the end of a noose than upright and thriving. I also said that these same black men had used the power of spoken word for the majority of their lives and purely for selfish reasons like avoiding hardship, or getting out of a jam, or stuffing their bellies, or fleecing their own brethren. And then I said that some of these same black men had even managed to convince small, unsuspecting colleges/institutions that they were smarter than the senior classes exiting Princeton; case in point, the entire Business Department of L— College, for some reason, thinks that they struck oil when they decided to employ an elderly black man who is still working well into his eighth decade of existence, a black man who’s yet to teach his current students anything relevant to the course he had been selected to instruct—I said all of this, or something to that effect. I ended by mentioning to her that if he were so damn “smart” then why hadn’t he retired yet? I mean, David Rockefeller recently topped out at 101 but his work had real (dire) influence. He was rigging the stock market; he was re-engineering human beings; he was whispering to women that they should put down the frying pan and instead pick up the keyboard—all of this allegedly, of course. (I don’t want to get whacked!) But what was this friggin’ guy doing? Don’t flatter me by saying “Teaching us.” Seriously, a man that “smart”, I said to her, is willingly choosing to work until he’s dead…? Having said my fill and her with no response, we finished out the errand in silence.

It was only out of a matter of convenience that I had remained tight-lipped to begin with. During this period in life I was pretty much nostrils out all the time, always on the lookout for a shortcut—and I had found one with him. It was grating, but a shortcut nonetheless. I mean, he just sat in front of us and talked for two and a half hours—or however long—twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) about Venus knows what; all of it improvised and not at all relevant to what was described in his course syllabus. (Those poor trees.) The class was supposed to be about Economics. Le Douche would also like to get my heart rate up by saying that he was going to teach us how to read stocks but, you know, that would drastically cut into his monologue, so… Anyhoo, my classmates and I—on the strength of this guy’s insufferable yakking—eventually bonded together. As the semester went on, during each “lecture” we would all turn to each other in deep confusion and total disbelief, absolutely mystified by what we were seeing play out right in front of us. It was just like in Fight Club: it was on all of our minds, we just hadn’t given it a name. There wasn’t even a name we could give it—but collectively we were all thinking, “Is he really just gonna sit there and talk the whole time and not teach us?” Dude was mum only for two days: our midterms and our finals… I know, I know. How can he administer a midterm and a final exam when all he did was talk ambiguously about “stuff” and never got around to teaching us anything? Well, I’m still trying to figure that one out too myself, to be honest—and how he calculated my final grade in the class: a B.

I dally with these stories because, to me, the recollection of them is interesting—not to mention the whole marketing angle which I’ve discussed in the past. So, as was the case with Preliminary Confession #1, the reader will have to once again practice patience, for I am in no rush to hasten to a close on what is my second preliminary question. And, like always, I ask that we turn our attention to this month’s stage play, Equus.

white horses running

Power & Grace

 

Title: Equus (1973)
Playwright: Peter Shaffer
Time Period: Early Postmodernism Period
Plot: A dispirited child psychiatrist attempts to treat an emotionally-troubled teenage boy who has committed a horrific act of animal cruelty.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 1.3]

DYSART
What did I expect of him? Very little, I promise you. One more dented little face. One more adolescent freak. The usual unusual. One great thing about being in the adjustment business: you’re never short of customers.

[Act 1.7]

FRANK
Yes, well that’s him. He’s always been a weird lad, I have to be honest. Can you imagine spending your weekends like that—just cleaning out stalls—with all the things that he could have been doing in the way of Further Education?

[Act 1.14]

ALAN
And he said ‘Behold—I give you Equus, my only begotten son!’

toy rocking horse

Hours of fun as a toddler…

Who knew the play involving animal cruelty would be so complex? Quite the shocking turn of events in this here series. I could say the same about my life right now, but that’s another story—and one I don’t want to get into… You know, it’s never a good feeling having to subject yourself to material that you’re strongly against. It rarely turns out positive, and, if anything, the whole experience just leaves you woozy. All the ordeal can ever do really is further cement your beliefs—that’s what pretty much ends up happening… I can be honest: I didn’t give this play much of a leg to stand on. I didn’t know if I would be in a strong enough place mentally to deal with the kind of imagery a story like this one evokes. Personally, I’m of the belief that there’s a special rung (circle?) in Hell reserved solely for those who are unkind to animals. I’m not quite full-on PETA about it—but, for Christ’s sake leave the damn animals alone!

Still, I was curious—and what good would this theater-review series be if it didn’t have a healthy mix of material? Considering my narrative hang-ups, I had to put them to the side for the interim in order to carry out this endeavor. Now that doesn’t mean that my nerves weren’t bad or that my stomach wasn’t in knots over having to read Equus (Latin for horse; Equus ferus caballus is the actual subspecies). Peter Shaffer did bless the world with Amadeus, I figured, so at least I knew that I’d be in the hands of a solid playwright.

And Shaffer did have quite the stunning writing career. Success in London, success in New York, success in Hollywood—the creative-type trifecta! Equus, in its heyday, left audiences speechless. Monumental when you consider it had over 1,000 performances… A little more trivia here: Anthony Hopkins was an original cast member in the New York production (1974). Oh, and the masks worn in The Lion King Musical were inspired by the masks used in Equus. Not bad, not bad… And near the end of Shaffer’s life (He died in 2016.) he gave the rights to Equus to prominent theater producer David Pugh who then went on to cast Daniel Radcliffe in one of the lead roles for the play’s revival (2007). At the time, it was still peak Potter and having Radcliffe in the play—in the buff!—was a no go for Warner Bros.’ execs, so he eventually had to drop out. (No lazy wand jokes here.)

half man half horse

The beast within…

Shaffer received the story by chance during a car ride through the English country side. A friend of his mentioned to him in passing that a teenage boy in the area had done something horrendous to a group of twenty-six horses at a local stable. Losing contact with the friend and not bothering to seek out the actual news story, Shaffer used the sparse details to recreate his own narrative, dropping the number of horses down to six and also exploring the realms of passion, (human/animal) sexuality, religion and sanity rather than the heinous act itself. Further backbone and heft were added through the old world Greek Stage tradition. He incorporated masks, miming, fourth wall-breaking and dance as well as a “faux” Chorus: the actors remain on stage the entire time, watching the story unfold along with the audience but also ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. Again, not bad. Not bad at all… As for the story, well…

equus poster

Chilling. Grisly. Disturbing.

The year is 1973(?) and at curtain we are to envision that we are in the office of Martin Dysart, a middle-age, overworked child psychiatrist at the Rokeby Psychiatric Hospital in South England. (This primarily is the location of the story though, technically, there are others. The stage design is sparse with only a single, main light shining down to the center of it that’s in the shape of a square.) Cigarette lit, he speaks to us (the real audience) and as small group gathered before him about a teenage boy he has been treating for the past month. He pauses mid-monologue, getting ahead of himself, and decides to go back to the very beginning, back to when he first became aware of the boy’s existence… Now this is one of the most highly controversial ways to start off a story—via flashback and with (voice-over) narration… In Hollywood, that is. (Remember, I have a script-reading background.) Flashbacks at the start of a screenplay are a huge red flag. It’s the tell-tale sign of a novice screenwriter. The next sign of a novice screenwriter is the use of voice-over narration—and speaking to the audience (“breaking the fourth wall”) does virtually the same function, when switching from the medium of Film over to Stage. In Film, seeing these two coupled together at the start of a screenplay would make a veteran script-reader cross his or her legs and let out a deep sigh of disgust. I actually started off my first (and only) short film [#shameless plug] in this fashion but will most likely avoid starting off a story this way again—and, of course, the subject matter… (That’s another long story and is strictly personal, and not a shot at anybody else.) Me, myself—I don’t get script-reader’s beef with flashbacks (or flashforwards or dream sequences for that matter) but I can kind of understand their frustration with voice-over narration, kind of… What seems like a simple story device can actually be quite cumbersome to work with once you get going. There are figuratively millions of books out there on how to use voice-over narration “properly” so by all means seek out the one you like. But here’s my take on voice-over narration having read over two-hundred screenplays that use it, hundreds of stage plays that break the fourth wall, and a plethora of novels written in first-person past tense:

(1) If the main character narrates the story, whether starting at the very beginning or at the “perceived beginning” (a flashback to a pivotal incident), we as the audience are robbed of any actual stakes (and possible tension). Basically, the main character survived. So to show us a scene—or several scenes—of near-death moments feels like a “cheat.” (To see a movie/play where the main character dies nowadays would take an act of Congress.)

(2) Who is the main character telling her story to? Because we (the real audience) don’t technically “exist.” Many new (screen-) writers fail to comprehend this notion. And not too many of them are ever that clever enough to make their main character cuckoo (i.e., the main character is talking to herself). And because of their failure to understand this story element, you can often tell that the jokes and dramatic beats were written for us and not the person the main character should be telling her story to, whoever that may be.

(3) Exposition. Basically, your main character will end up saying “stuff” (information that we need to know for story purposes) to people who should already be in the know. For instance, the main character will narrate for a bit then drop out to let a scene play out regularly. And in this scene you will get a line like: “So, am I going to see you tonight for dinner at eight?” Sure, the main character could be just saying this to confirm. But shouldn’t the other character in the scene know this info already and maybe want to discuss something else?

(4) This last one really curls the blood of many script-readers. If you have one character who narrates, who is often the main character of the story then we (the real audience as well as the person[s] being told the story; see #2) can only “see” the story from the main character’s point-of-view. So the moment you switch point-of-views it becomes a “cheat.” Ideally, voice-over narration is a way for the audience (and the person[s] listening to the narrator) to get inside of a (main) character’s head and see life through that character’s eyes—and no one else’s. This element gets botched the most. Midway through a script with voice-over narration, out of nowhere the main character has knowledge of things she couldn’t have known because she was either never there or hadn’t yet arrived at the location where those specific details would eventually come up. It’s a matter of sequencing. Some writers try to gloss over this by saying that because the main character/narrator is recollecting all that happened, the details of things she couldn’t possibly know of but somehow knows of them much earlier in the narrative are okay to state at an earlier time because she’s merely piecing a story together, albeit unreliably (first person mechanics automatically make this a reality), and she’s going to eventually find out that information anyway and a simple line of dialogue to clear up the matter when she does eventually find out the information in the correct scene is a simple-enough fix. It’s like a reverse lampshade, or something. But in my book, it’s still a “cheat.”

black-horse

The Dark One

Shaffer works all four of these with ease, tripping up a bit on #3—but that’s just me being hella nit-picky. However, the rest of the story hums… And of the five stage plays I’ve reviewed so far, Equus has the most complete story line: you have a world-weary doctor who is over it and doing the cliché one last job. Here it’s up to him to determine the fate of a teen who has done something monstrous to a team of stable horses, and he’s got roughly one month to make his final decision. The teenager in question is seventeen-year-old Alan Strang, who is a bit of a sicko in my opinion. I’m quite disturbed by what he did to those horses. I shiver thinking about how many more Alan Strangs there are out there today hidden in society doing this type of sick, twisted ish behind closed doors and away from cameras…

I would like to take this time to apologize in advance for what is going to be the vagueness of my review. Like Camille (could’ve done a tie-in but opted not to) — I think this is one you should read… But I also must issue a Trigger Warning along with that recommendation. There are two sequences—this being more a performance piece, and the showiest of the plays I’ve discussed—that are definitely worth your while. One is at the “midpoint” and the other is at what I take to be the play’s climax. These sequences make the play what it is and Shaffer’s descriptions in these moments (throughout as well) have sucked all the life force out of me. (I don’t know if I could’ve handled seeing this play acted out IRL.)

hobbyhorse

Giddy up!

Shaffer piles a lot on to his plate here in trying to get to the root of what would make Alan do what he did. I don’t buy any of it, and I don’t feel bad about making that known. The theme here—again, under the umbrellas of passion, sex, religion and sanity—is the seemingly senseless violence of our time. Yeah, I agree but with Alan it comes down to curiosity—that and he could get away with it because the creatures he lashed out on are virtually defenseless.

the_godfather_horse_head

Entertainment? Where’s the heck is PETA?

Having read Equus, I can’t help but look at this play differently now. I’m going to go against the grain here and take a Feminist angle, because I find it warranted this time around. Plot and narrative-mechanics wise, this play is another two-hander (forty-year-old man, seventeen-year-old boy) and the typical back-and-forth/will-they, won’t-they business is all solid. But there are some peculiar—and by peculiar, I mean off-putting—jabs at women kneaded not so subtlety into the dough… Both Dysart and Alan blame women for their sexual inadequacies; Dysart admits to a female colleague—on the job!—that he is impotent; Dysart’s boss (Hesther) allows him to go far beyond the doctor/patient relationship thus making her a pushover; Alan’s dad (Frank) blames his wife (Dora; Alan’s mother) for Alan’s behavior (effeminacy); it’s also suggested—strongly suggested—that a young woman’s (Jill) sexual advances are what may have caused Alan to go postal; Alan, himself, is even antagonistic towards a nurse and strikes his own mother… Look, facts are facts—coded or exposed. And Shaffer, not any of the characters in this here story, may have had some resentment (and possible outright hatred) towards women. Not to speak ill of the dead but it’s worth mentioning that Shaffer was homosexual, so… (That makes two gay writers for those keeping track of diversity.)

Well, it should be obvious that this story holds up… I mean, just look at what we’re doing to Mother Nature. Hell, look at what we’re doing to our own species… Sorry, I can’t be more inventive and extensive. Stories like this make me extremely depressive and question my existence… I get to wondering if our society is even equipped to handle grisly events like the one featured in Equus… This play was written and performed in the 1970’s, and like a cheating voice-over narration, I have working knowledge of the future so I know that we don’t per se… And I guess that’s what makes me so sad. Right now, some nut-job is getting ready to mistreat/torture an animal for no other reason than that he/she can. It’s absolutely infuriating that I or any animal-protecting agency can’t do anything to stop it from happening… It looks like this has shaped up to be another Color Struck moment where fun slips out the back door. *deep sigh* Tough material to trek through this month boys and girls and aliens… But make no mistake, Shaffer’s a genius playwright and the writing in Equus is phenomenal… It’s just the subject matter; I’m not a fan of this kind of stuff (anymore)… I’ll close by saying… Shit, I don’t even know how to close… And here it is National Pet Month and I just had to have this play slotted, oh boy… I’ll see you guys next month with something a little more upbeat… I should be all right by then… Next month’s stage play is from one of my favorite time periods: The Restoration.

stage-chair

‘Til June…

 

 

Rating: 3/5