Equus - Segal Centre of Arts

Stripped Down & Dirty
Jeanotte gives performance of a lifetime as Alan Strang in Segal Centre Equus.

Segal Centre has hit the ground running with the first show of their new season, a stellar production of Equus, Peter Shaffer’s famous play about what happens when boy meets horse. Now almost forty
years old, Equus has been experiencing a renaissance ever since Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe played the lead role on Broadway.

Now we have this remarkable production directed by Domy Reiter-Soffer. This Equus has been stripped down to its barest bones, allowing Reiter-Soffer to extenuate the play’s inherent sexuality and
the dreamlike (or is that nightmarish?) aspects of Shaffer’s script. Actors bring on the occasional set piece, but for the most part the cast is left with nothing but the text to save them, a challenge which all
of them handle with admirable skill.

For those who didn’t have to study the play in school, Equus is structured much like a murder mystery, following Dr. Dysart (Jean Marchand) as he struggles to learn why Alan Strang (Dan Jeanotte) blinded six horses. But of course the play is about more then just that: the script is a sublime meditation on the connection between religion and sexuality and the true effects of modern psychiatry.

As Dysart, Marchand does a serviceable job, although on opening night he didn’t always quite capture the unstable aspects of Dr. Dysart’s persona, making his eleven o’clock breakdown feel more than slightly forced.

Native Montrealer Susan Glover does the best she can with the thankless role of Hesther Soloman, a woman whose entire purpose is to provoke expository revelations from Dysart. The always reliable
Ellen David gives another sympathetic performance as Alan’s religious mother and Daniel Lilliford does a great job as Alan’s father, shifting from righteous to pathetic. And Patricia Summersett makes
for a coy and striking Jill, the young lady whose attentions provoke Alan in ways she does not intend.

But if a production of Equus lives or dies by its Alan Strang, then this production will probably live forever. Jeanotte is primarily known for his comedic skills – he’s a founding member of the sketch
comedy group Uncalled For – but he has given us a near-revelatory performance, finally revealing the dramatic skill only hinted at in past non-comedic roles (such as Mainline Theatre’s Hedda Gabler).

Other reviewers will call his performance “brave” or “fearless”, but these are just euphemisms for the fact that he gets completely naked. This isn’t why he should be applauded. In a passionate and
energized performance, Jeanotte deftly finds both the character’s comedy and his pathos.

A choreographer as well as a director, Reiter-Soffer has infused the play with a balletic element, bringing dancers on to emulate the horses that are both Alan’s obsession and ultimately his downfall.

This heightens the dreamy quality of this production, which is only appropriate: Equus is, in the end, a memory play that exists in the mind of Dr. Dysart. If one had to quibble, it would be with the jarring
Hollywood-style mood music that is piped in whenever something dramatic happens. But this is a minor point: even after 40 years, this production proves that the world could always use another
Equus, with or without Harry Potter holding the reins.

Equus runs at the Segal Centre Theatre until Oct. 2.