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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Equus Potter

Ben Brantley's review of Equus makes much ado of Harry Potter and of the performers. He does, though, dismiss this play (not the production, but the play itself) as "hokum."

The idea that a play as good as Equus can be so summarily dismissed by the Times, thirty years after its original production, gives me pause.

13 comments:

Scott Walters said...

It's a damn good play. And even if you disagree with what seems to be Shaffer's philosophy, at least there is something to disagree with. Dismissing this play is fashionable -- it makes you seem like a thinker without actually having to, you know, think.

Anonymous said...

And I dismiss Ben Brantley as bunkum. So I guess it all evens out...

-- Ek...ek!!

Kim Wallace said...

"...it makes you seem like a thinker without actually having to, you know, think."

This is one of the reasons I don't like the play.

Dan Freeman said...

I thought it was daring, such a subversive move to cast Radcliffe, sort of like when they got Culkin for Party Monster.

The play definitely desires the star treatment and full push of a mainstream Broadway production,

But it is of course the play that adds legitimacy to Radcliffe and to Broadway, and not the other way around.

ben you're not alone said...

Newsday

Equus" always was pretty much of a crock - pseudo-serious humanity-on-trial hokum dressed up in mythic profundity. But it remains excellent hokum, spectacularly theatrical.

Daily News

Peter Shaffer's play...intrigues but shows its age.

USA today

The good and bad news about the new Broadway revival of 'Equus' with Daniel Radcliffe is that the actor is aging a lot more gracefully than the play. Shaffer's account of a 17-year-old who blinds six horses in a fit of sexual and spiritual agony and the psychiatrist who tends to his tortured soul is undeniably seductive in its use of words and imagery. But it's riddled with clich├ęs and specious suggestions about the human mind and spirit.

Variety

Daniel Radcliffe significantly helps overcome the fact that Peter Shaffer's 1975 Tony winner doesn't entirely hold up...Radcliffe's performance provides 'Equus' with a raw emotional nerve center that renders secondary any concerns about its wonky and over-explanatory psychology.

Hollywood Reporter

Unfortunately, this revival of Peter Shaffer's landmark 1973 play doesn't manage to bring sufficient life to what is a now-dated and often-plodding psychological drama.

International herald Tribune

The play strains in presenting Alan's turbulent home life, a strict overbearing father (T. Ryder Smith) and quivery, religious mother (Carolyn McCormick). It also falters during the wordy conversations between Dysart and a local magistrate (the overwrought Kate Mulgrew), the woman who sets the story in motion. Far better are the brief scenes between Alan and the young woman who works at the stable.

Freeman said...

Jesus! The beatings have commenced.

It's entirely possible that the play comes off as dated. It's just a very real surprise that of all the things on stage that are getting savaged by the press...the script of Equus?

When is the last time any of us can think of a script that was roundly adored by the theatrical press? Where the consensus was "This play is fantastic" with no major dissenters?

Scott Walters said...

Here's what puzzles me: "Equus" makes an attempt to address fairly important issues -- what is the role of passion in a society that values conformity? Is "normal" something to be aspired to? In our current climate, those might be important questions. But it is as if the mere attempt to address larger issues is seen as an affront. Better to remain trivial, seems to be the message. It's not as if the Broadway stage is flooded with profound drama!

ben you're not alone said...

Dear Matt,

I didn't post those excerpts to denigrate the play. My point was that your puzzlement over Ben Brantley's review was misplaced. Your initial post seemed to suggest that the play's genius was beyond question and that Brantley was out of step. But you now seem to concede that isn't the case when you say:

"When is the last time any of us can think of a script that was roundly adored by the theatrical press? Where the consensus was "This play is fantastic" with no major dissenters?"

If you believe that then why be surprised that he didn't like the play?

Dear Scott,

you argue that:

"But it is as if the mere attempt to address larger issues is seen as an affront. Better to remain trivial, seems to be the message."

This might hold water if you could point to a consistent pattern where critics dismiss serious minded plays in favour of the trivial. But Brantley and most others gave Coast of Utopia a thumbs up. Therefore it's reasonable to assume the criticism of Equus has nothing to do with the seriousness of its intentions. I don't believe the majority of critics ever diss work to be "fashionable". Those who don't like Equus are mostly sincere in taking issue with it. They may be completely wrong, but that's no reason to cast aspersions on their character.

(And I should add that I'm no great fan of critics.)

Scott Walters said...

What I meant to imply is that critics seem to have a higher bar for serious work than for non-serious. And also that over the years "Equus" has fallen victim to a conventional wisdom that it is a superficial play, so that it is enough to simply dismiss it without having to justify one's dismissal. To me, as someone who has been trained as a critic, this seems like a flaw. Further, I would beg to differ as to the depth, especially when compared to most contemporary Broadway fare.

Freeman said...

dear "ben you are not alone" (!)

I understand why you tried to show the critical consensus. I actually tend to really enjoy Brantley's style and I think he's punchy. I'm not trying to attack him.

I guess my initial response was simply surprise that, of all the dynamic elements in this production, the Hollywood star received great praise, and the well-respected and oft-produced and much-ballyhooed Equus is the thing that was mostly dismissed. It wasn't to show Brantley was out-of-step, it was honest surprise.

Then, seeing that the reaction was general, my response shifted. It wasn't a rhetorical question. I wondered aloud which is the last play that HAD been universally accepted by the critics. Because if it isn't Equus, what the heck is it?

You bring up Coast of Utopia. That's a worthwhile example of a play that critics seemed to have all rallied behind.

This is mostly the response of a playwright who watches new plays cross the desks of critics and get savaged more often than not. I guess my assumption was that certain scripts had stood the test of time and had passed the statute of limitations on a critical lambasting.

And, it's worthwhile to note that the play once received this stellar review from the Times:

http://theater2.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?_r=1&html_title=&tols_title=EQUUS%20(PLAY)&pdate=19741025&byline=By%20CLIVE%20BARNES&id=1077011429892

Note that Clive Barnes wrote:
"This is a very fine and enthralling play. It holds you by the root of drama, and it adds immeasurably to the fresh hopes we have for Broadway's future."

Dan Freeman said...
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Dan Freeman said...
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Dan Freeman said...

Dear Ben,

When you said:
"I don't believe the majority of critics ever diss work to be "fashionable"."


I've always found that reviewers, critics, and very arguably audience members, are like schools of fish.

They all seem to move at once because they're looking at each other and not where they're going.