I had the good opportunity to catch a Sunday matinee of Repertory Philippines’ production of Equus at Onstage Greenbelt. For the uninitiated, the stage play was recently revived in Broadway and even made more famous by Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe playing the very demanding role of Alan Strang.
In my honest opinion, the local version stands up vis-a-vis their foreign counterparts for the sheer reason of near-flawless acting from the whole cast. The characters of Dr. Martin Dysart (the psychologist) and patient Alan Strang were played by Rep veteran Miguel Faustmann and Red Concepcion (who alternates with MYX VJ Search Finalist Marco Manalac) in the particular show I watched. They fleshed out their roles with the smallest of inhibitions. And this being a psychological drama, you won’t stand a chance of understanding the denouement of the plot if you as much as doze off for a few minutes in the more important conversations and monologues deep within. The two leads are like playing a fast game of verbal ping-pong. Come to think of it, playing ping-pong is easier to accomplish.
The story sounds simple at first. A psychiatrist takes on the case of Alan Strang, a 17 year-old stable hand who blinded six horses in a fit of rage. Afterwards, several questions start coming out. Why did he do it? Who is to blame for his actions? What is the explanation behind his obsession with horses? Two acts and close to three hours later, these were answered, but not in the easiest of behavioral analysis, truth drugs and reenactments.
Miguel Faustmann cuts a highly-involved Dr. Martin Dysart. He was onstage 99% of the time and is actually the weaver who stitches together all the mental complexities of Alan Strang and the people surrounding him. In the process, his character discovers his own demons and curiously developed an envy on his patient who has self-actualized his obsession unlike him who remains stuck looking at coffee table books on Greek Gods and mythology. It is a demanding role that requires him to forcefully assess another person’s abnormality while looking at himself. It amazes me to no end that he can perform the part without a specified alternate, unlike Red Concepcion and Marco Manalac taking turns in bringing the doctor’s patient to life. But that doesn’t mean having another person playing Alan Strang comes easy. It is an immensely difficult character to play and internalize because the requisites are not limited to mouthing lines from a crazy mind, but stripping all the way in the climax of Act 2.
The supporting performers are equally good. In particular, Tami Monsod essayed the role of Alan Strang’s mother with the right amount of guilt and sympathy. Hers is a part that could be easily swallowed by the tour-de-force performances of Miguel Faustmann and Red Concepcion. But she held her own, especially in the scene where she finally went into an emotional catharsis with Dr. Dysart. Others in the cast are Roselyn Perez, Pheona Baranda, Jaime del Mundo, Dido dela Paz, James Stacey and Katski Perez. Kudos to the production team who assembled an almost-bare stage (with only five white benches and five thinly-covered openings from where the ‘horses’ would come out) that did not take your focus away from this heavily character-driven drama. The lighting was both clever and excellent, especially in the two crucial scenes which required Red Concepcion, Marco Manalac and Pheona Baranda to appear frontally nude.
I have to give the final praise to Audie Gemora who directed his first full-length drama after having involved himself in overseeing musicals for the biggest part of his directorial stints in the local theatre world. His tight control of the cast and material allows no lapses in the smooth movement of the play. Well-done!
Catch Equus at the Onstage Greenbelt in Makati with tickets at popular prices. It will run until this coming Sunday, July 25. You can check out Ticketworld for available schedules.
P.S. Due to the sensitive nature of the play, “Equus” is Strictly for Adults Only – 18 years old and above.