"Equus" is best show in town

Par Alidor Aucoin le 15 mai 2008

Ignore the script's dubious psycho babble. Equus, playing in French at Théatre Jean Duceppe in Place des Arts until May 31 is electrifying drama, thrilling theatre, and at the moment best show in town.

The plot is straightforward: A teenage stable boy, Alan Strang, (Éric Bruneau) has blinded six horses with a spike. His psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, (Guy Nadon) sets out to discover what drove a boy inflamed by impotence and sexual guilt into such violent behaviour. But as the play unfolds we learn the troubled teen worships horses as gods, as deities, and if he is to be cured at all, it means destroying Strang's deepest convictions, his passion, his essence.

When Peter Shaffer wrote the play about a boy's religious fixation with horses, 35 years ago it was the homoerotic sub text that made it a hit.

First staged at the Old Vic when homosexuals were considered mentally ill, the play's subliminal message back then was clear: deny humans the full expression of their sexual identity and you destroy them as people.

The theme of director Daniel Roussel’s updated version is much more pertinent: Why, in a world in which everyone is slightly mad, and no one really believes in anything anymore, it asks, should we cure madness?

Everything about Roussel's production is superb -his translation, the staging, and especially his cast. Éric Bruneau, a recent l'École de théâtre national graduate is a thoroughbred in his first starring role as the sullen psychotic, Alan Strang. If for no other reason, catch the show so years from now you can boast that you saw Bruneau at the debut of what promises to be a great career.

Veteran warhorse Guy Nadon is a tour de force as the sexually frustrated psychiatrist who envies his patient's passion. Bruneau and Nadon are an admirably matched pair and their verbal sparring deserves the standing ovations it gets. Eve Gadouas as Jill, the girl who seduces Strang, is a suitable foil. Their vivid beautifully staged nude scene in the second act              is remarkably unselfconscious. Without it, the dénouement would not be as moving and powerful.

Eric Cabana as Nugget, one of the horses that Strang adores, is a thrilling physical presence in a stylized acrylic mask and strutted hooves.

Louise Laparade and and Germain Houde as the dysfunctional parents who have maimed their son make the most of their stereotypical roles. She's the sexually repressed housewife and he is the self righteous moralist husband who gets his kicks watching pornography. Micheline Bernard, Michelle Labonté and Raymond Legault round out the solid cast.

Set designer Pierre Labonté and his technical crew deserve a special citation for the mirrored scrim which not only reflects ghostly equine images on its surface, but also captures the reaction of the audience who are watching the play, turning everyone in the theatre into a voyeur.

Everything about Equus is an illusion, yet everything is real.

It is a lacerating experience.

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