Equus - Segal Centre of Arts

Renaissance man brings Equus to the Segal Centre
By Pat Donnelly, Gazette Culture Critic September 2, 2011

MONTREAL -To Domy Reiter-Soffer, Peter Shaffer’s Equus isn’t just a play; it’s also a ballet, and something of a lifetime obsession.

When Equus, a riveting tale of a young man who undergoes psychiatric examination after mutilating several horses, surfaced in London in 1973, Reiter-Soffer was an ambitious young dancer/actor/director eager to land the rights. What he managed to obtain instead was permission to choreograph a ballet version. It premiered in Maryland in 1980 and became a New York sensation
when the Dance Theatre of Harlem performed it at the Met in 1981. Since then, it has been revived around the world.

Now Reiter-Soffer, who has directed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and served 15 years as artistic adviser to the Irish National Ballet Company (1974 to 1989), is finally getting to direct the play as a
theatrical production, at the Segal Centre, where it begins previews on Sept. 11.

“Equus is one of the greatest 20th-century plays,” he said. “It had a great impact in the ’70s and it has been performed in 43 different languages. I have seen it in at least five different languages myself.”

The Segal Centre’s former artistic director, Bryna Wasserman, proposed the project after attending one of Reiter-Soffer’s works (The Glass Menagerie) in Tel Aviv. It was an offer that this director, who
divides his time between residences in Tel Aviv and London, couldn’t refuse.

“Equus is not strange to me,” he said “because I have known Peter Shaffer since 1980, when I first worked on the dance version of it. I had wanted to do the play itself, but he had refused because it
was, at the time, very, very hot. It was being done in London, Australia, all over the world. And I was very young then, and the film had just come out. So he said ‘Why don’t you just wait?’ But I was
young and foolish and I just squatted at his door. I said ‘I will do a dance version of it.’ He said ‘Well, write me a scenario of it and we will see how you understand my play.’ So I did this dance version,
which he approved of. And it was a huge success. It travelled all over the world.”

During that process, Reiter-Soffer said “I had months and months of dialogue with Peter Shaffer. In fact, he was at rehearsals as well. He was very generous to me and guided me, in a way. I started to
really understand the impact of Equus and what it is all about through Shaffer’s eyes. As well, he gave me a security that I could have a completely different spectrum on the play. That it doesn’t have to be
a claustrophobic play. He said that every generation has to have an insight into Equus. It’s not just about psychiatry. It’s about passion, it’s about violence. It’s about a youth who is discovering his
sexuality. Every generation has a different attitude toward all of this. … That opened a huge door.”

The Segal production, however, will not be dance theatre, Reiter-Soffer said. “The horses are dancers. But they are moving rather than dancing.”

They won’t be wearing huge heads or outsized footwear, either. And there may only be five of them, instead of the usual six.

Finding the right actors required a thorough search, Reiter-Soffer said.

“It all depends on the boy. The boy sees the horses differently than you or I or anybody else sees them. They are like gods to him. Which is very important to accentuate – that they are not just horses.
They are gods to him, and especially Nugget. He actually misunderstands his relations with God and horses and Christ. He comes from a family with a religious mother and a very secular father.”

Being born into an age when television was new, and being forbidden access to it by his father, affects the 17-year-old boy, too: “He has absolutely nothing but fantasy.”

Reiter-Soffer said he auditioned hundreds of Canadian actors here and in Toronto before choosing Dan Jeannotte (best known for his comedy work with the improv troupe Uncalled For) to play the boy,
Alan Strang.