Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Tony Walton

Review | Equus by Peter Shaffer | Directed by Tony Walton | With Alec Baldwin and Sam Underwood | Guild Hall, Easthampton

… “interspecies love” …

A psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, has thrust on him a singularly disturbed young patient, Alan Strang.  The teen-ager has committed the shocking act of blinding six horses.  A magistrate compassionately seeks to spare Alan from the criminal justice system by handing him over the her friend, Martin, expecting him to help the young man resolve whatever is his problem … become happier … or less anguished … something in that direction.

The play is a psychoanalytically styled probing in search of a cure with scenes from Alan’s life and crime dramatized.  Unique in the annals of psychoanalysis, the psychiatrist talks more than the patient!  Alec Baldwin, in the role of the psychiatrist, goes on and on and on, pretentiously philosophizing and telling us what to think about the matter at hand and everything else.

It turns out the boy is sexually hung up on horses, those muscular, strong necked, sweaty beasts.  It wouldn’t be fair to reveal how his passion for horses leads him to blind them except to say there’s a great deal of sensationalism in this play, which may explain why it’s still around after its initial London and Broadway productions in 1973.  I’ve read that Alan’s nudity created international attention (!) back then.  Today that’s so common (yawn) … so in this production the nudity is hyped by including female as well as male nudity in an actual, staged love scene between Alan and his would-be girlfriend but, for good reason, there’s no chemistry.

In addition to the human characters, this production includes five horses (not the six described by Alan’s crime).  Never mind that one’s missing — the horses area really well done!  They’re played by five men wearing brown body suits, openwork horse-head shaped helmets and heavy, openwork boots shaped like hooves that force them to clump around slowly and loudly, nod their heads, resists the bit with their chins, and create, all in all, a fascinating and appealing illusion of horses — or, since they have the bodies of men, centaurs.  The brawny, brown, pheromone-rich horses are stand-ins for “the love that dare not speak its name.”  How telling that as recently as 1973, horses were thought to be easier for an audience to take as sex objects for men than other men!

But Alan, and his psychiatrist, and “the cure” … these are totally unconvincing and — an old-fashioned word for a dated play — corny.  The psychiatrist actually promises Alan he’ll cure him.  And silly as that sounds, in the play, he sort of does.

EQUUS plays at the Guild Hall Theatre in Easthampton, Long Island, through July 3rd.

Review | Candida by George Bernard Shaw | Directed and Designed by Tony Walton | Irish Repertory Theatre

I love Shaw and the Irish Repertory Theatre does plays wonderfully so I was keenly looking forward to Candida. It turned out to be very dull.  Why?  The play or the production?

The Play: The time is 1894.  Candida is a married woman at the apex of a love triangle.  Marchbanks, a near-to-vagabond young poet, has romantic visions of the world and of their love.  Her husband, Morrell, also a man of words, is a diligent, charismatic minister constantly lecturing to do-good organizations, including Shaw’s Fabian Society.  She loves her husband but is drawn to Marchbanks.  Each man claims that Candida is truly his.  Whose is she?

Marchbanks’ claim to Candida is that he “understands” her in a poetic sense that’s never really clear.  Morrell’s supposedly more pedestrian claim is that he loves her, she agreed to marry him, he is in fact her husband and, furthermore, he protects and provides for her.  But who does Candida believe she belongs to?  The climax of the play is when she places herself on auction, giving each man a chance to make his claim, ultimately demonstrating that she is not his or his — she’s her own person.

We can more or less accept Marchbanks as a young swain in love with an older woman, and Morrell as an upstanding man in the world in love with his own wife, but there are too many inconsistencies and questions around Candida to allow her to come across as a particularly interesting or fully realized character.  She’s just come in from a vacation but claims that the household is short of money, and something’s said about her taking care of children but there are no children in the play.  She does or does not resent having the help the maid peel onions:  which is it?  We’re told that she has nice hair and a good figure but other than that, there’s nothing special about her so we’re left with each of these men being in love with her just because people fall in love.

What does she do all day anyhow beside fluff the pillows, when she’s not mothering Marchbanks, whose poetry doesn’t interest her?  It’s said that Shaw wrote this play in response to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in which, at the end, Nora leaves her husband.  Candida stays with her husband, in some newly defined relationship we are to understand, but we don’t see it in the play.  Some things have been said, e.g., she has in the past been the one to put off the creditors when the family’s short of money while he gets credit for munificence when they pay up.  She runs interference for him.  Are we supposed to think that from now on he’ll face off the creditors?  And that’s a good thing?  She’ll have even less to do in the outside world.

Or does she get to pay the bills?  That’s not much fun.

And what happened to Shavian wit in Candida?  There are a couple of cracks about people liking to hear what ministers tell them to do and then not doing it, and that’s about it.

The Production: The set was predictable, a cluttered, slightly disorderly late 19th Century British middle class household that makes you sneeze just to look at it.  In spite of a distinguished cast, the acting didn’t serve the play.  Perhaps an actress with great style and power — Katharine Cornell played Candida — could have overridden the weaknesses in the characterization, but Melissa Errico ‘s Candida is all on the surface — instead of playing the part, she plays herself playing a type of part she’s done a number of times before.  Ciaran O’Reilly, another highly accomplished actor with an impressive resume, looks and acts scruffy and vague instead of a dynamic minister everyone including Candida falls in love with.  Sam Underwood’s irritating, clickety-clack reading of his lines as Marchbanks makes it impossible to understand Candida’s attraction to him.  Only the smaller parts came alive, and Xanthe Elbrick is particularly humorous and believable as the minister’s typist.

Candida is sometimes said to be more human and psychological than Shaw’s more “talky” plays of ideas.  If so, I say bring back the talky ones!  Like the hilarious and totally enjoyable Misalliance at the Pearl Theatre, reviewed here in December.

Candida plays at the Irish Repertory Theatre in NYC’s Chelsea through April 18.

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