equus

by Peter Shaffer

directed by Tony Walton

Scenery: Heather Wolensky
Costumes: Amy Ritchings
Lights: Sebastian Paczynski
Sound: Andrew Nagel
Photos: Gary Mamay

In 2010, Guild Hall of East Hampton chose to produce EQUUS  as the hallmark production of their season. This production was on the heels of a the Broadway revival starring Daniel Radcliffe, however Guild Hall had plans to take it one step further. Through director Tony Walton and producer/star Alec Baldwin, Peter Shaffer was in attendance through rehearsals and the tech process to help create a production for Guild Hall that was unique, and true to the playwright’s vision… plus some nipping and tucking.

EQUUS ultimately is a story of how passion or lack thereof can rock one’s foundations to the core. It centers around Martin Dysart (Baldwin) a middle aged state psychiatrist, arguably one of the best of his craft, particularly with the treatment of children. He is brought Alan Strang (Sam Underwood), a 17 year old boy who blinded six horses, and no one knows why.  Through Dysart’s exploration of Alan’s troubled mind, he unlocks his own despair and shakes the very grounding of medicine that he holds dear. His quest to make Alan “normal” only serves up the question of whether normal is right, or simply a passionless existence.

The Guild Hall production of EQUUS featured a large turntable center stage with swinging benches that could adjust to each locale required by the script. While not in a scene, the actors would walk upstage and take their seats on benches, remaining part of the total stage picture. The sound system was 6 channels, with the primary loudspeakers far upstage of the actors, allowing the sound to filter through the scenery while remaining hidden in the dark.  Additional loudspeakers were located stage right and left, providing lateral effect positions, as well as subwoofers, also placed upstage. The front of house stereo arrays were not used in this production, a choice made to pull the audience further into the world of the play – centering their focus on the set, and what was happening. The result was an incredibly intimate sound design, that had tremendous power to raise the stakes to an almost scary level when necessary.

At the end of ACT 1, Alan has been hypnotized by Dysart, in an effort to find out more of his fascination and downright worship of horses. During this scene, Alan reenacts his late night rides on the back of one of the horses, Nugget. The other horses turned the turntable through the scene, while Alan spoke from atop Nugget center stage. To provide sound reinforcement, a wireless microphone was hidden within Nugget’s horse head, with the microphone element at the top of the mask. The engineer delicately brought in this microphone during the scene, allowing Alan’s lines to be heard above the noise of the turntable, metal horse hooves, and the sound effects and music. Click the link below to hear a stereo mix-down of the ride sound effects.

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Dysart continues his probing into Alan’s mind and sickness, culminating in the final scene, where Alan acts out his blinding of the horses. It is then that Dysart fully understands the depths of Alan’s obsession, and helps him abreact and purge himself of the pain that has colored Alan for so long. In taking away this pain, Dysart also points out that he is removing a level of passion from Alan that can never be replaced – a passion that he himself has never felt. He wonders at the end if he has actually helped Alan at all, and whether his own passionless existence will ever change. Click the link below to hear a stereo mix-down of the ending.

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