Equus - Segal Centre of Arts

New production of Equus an all-around success
At segal centre; Director sensitive to all elements
By PAT DONNELLY, The Gazette September 16, 2011

A newspaper report of a crime involving the mutilation of six horses by a tormented teenager inspired Peter Shaffer's 1973 classic Equus.

But his approach to the material was purely fictional. The play probes the fragile psychology of an only child brought up by two doting but rather dotty parents, a mother who is a former teacher and fervent
Christian, and a father who is a printer and crotchety left-winger.

There have been three productions of Equus in Montreal within the last three years, all part of a trend set off by Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, who appeared in a London production in 2007, then
Broadway in 2008. Compagnie Jean Duceppe presented it at Place des Arts in 2008, and Village Scene Productions offered it at The Rialto last April.

I enjoyed and admired both productions. But the current, multimedia Equus directed by Domy Reiter-Soffer, which opened Wednesday at the Segal Centre, is the most fully achieved. It's visually stunning,
yet intimately connected to the text, sensitive to the fiercely poetic bent of the play.

Structured like a detective novel, with child psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Jean Marchand) presiding as narrator and chief investigator, Equus explores the possibility that all of the king's horses and all the
king's men may never be able to put juvenile delinquent Alan Strang (Dan Jeannotte) back together again. And, if they do succeed, there's a chance that he will become an unhappy bore who fits the
conventional concept of "normal."

This sobering possibility causes Dysart to reflect on his own passiondeprived life, married to a Scottish dentist who knits while he pores over books on Ancient Greece. Luckily, magistrate Hesther Saloman is around to remind him that it's not all about him, it's about the kid. Susan Glover does her best to make something memorable of this thinly written, functional role.

Marchand looks tweedy and sounds credibly British, delivering a nuanced, highly cerebral performance of the mind doctor who feels that he's losing his.

But in this production, it's Alan who has the upper hand. Jeannotte commands the stage with a wonderfully physical performance, sometimes a bit heavy on the bug-eyed innocence or the studied
stance, yet consistently engaging. The savage dance of the crime re-enactment scene would be breathtaking even without the nudity (which on this stage, is very up close and personal).

Ellen David takes the meddling mother role to new heights, ably supported by Daniel Lillford as resentful Dad. Together, they send our sympathies toward the 17-year-old boy caught between them.

Patricia Summersett gracefully accomplishes what little she has to do (besides taking off her clothes) as Alan's love interest, Jill.

The horses, all men, prance beautifully, flashing muscles beneath their cut-out body stockings. (Paul-Antoine Taillefer plays proud Nugget. The other dancers, Gabriel Painchaud, David Rowan, Benjamin
Hatcher and Simon Vermeulen, also appear in other roles.) In every production of Equus, the horses reign.

Having previously directed Equus as a ballet, Reiter-Soffer has a keen understanding of the structure of the piece, its visual possibilities and its lyrical qualities.

Set designer John C. Dinning has outdone himself with a curved minimalist structure, with undulating wooden walls and metal poles suggesting spikes. Projected images flow on a backdrop screen.

The music, composed by Christian Thomas, adds a cinematic, at times melodramatic, touch.

This Equus keeps both the eyes and the mind engaged for the duration (Two hours and 30 minutes, intermission included.)

Equus continues until Oct. 2 at the Segal Centre, 5170 C.te Ste.

Catherine Rd.