What do Anthony Perkins, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin and Louisville’s own Roger Fristoe have in common? They all starred in the role of Dr. Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist in Peter Shaffer’s shattering 1973 play, “Equus.”
The current production, mounted in The Henry Clay by the Actors Choice company in conjunction with the Bunbury Theatre, gives Fristoe a long-awaited chance to take on the storied role, that of a court-appointed psychiatrist trying to unravel the deep-seated problems of Alan, a volatile young stable boy, while dealing with issues of his own.
Fristoe told me in an interview that he had waited more than 30 years for the part. Fristoe saw Anthony Perkins, as Dysart in the play’s first Broadway run in the 1970s. Perkins had taken over the role from another celebrated Anthony: Anthony Hopkins, whose portrayal of Dysart helped “Equus” win the 1974 Tony Award for Best Play. Perkins, according to Fristoe, hadn’t felt himself to be right for the role, but was talked into it.
“I saw it thinking he (Perkins) couldn’t make it,” Fristoe told me, “only to be astounded by the depth of his portrayal. I vowed I would get the part some day.
Director Mike Seely, director of Bunbury’s production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” felt the same way. He founded Actors Choice expressly to stage a production of “Equus” with Fristoe as Dysart.
“He wanted the part himself,” Fristoe said of Seely, “and wished I would break a leg so he could step in.”
Fristoe (Roger to me) lost 30 pounds, grew a beard and moustache and studied the part intensively for the role. In the background were more than 30 years of periodic re-readings of the play. When I asked how he’d become so slim and handsome, he told me that he started his “own version of Weight Watchers” about 10 months in advance of the role, and once it started, the countless hours of nonstop performing under hot lights sped his progress.
I had the rewarding experience of seeing “Equus” in its current production. I am not reviewing it or delivering a synopsis, but want to describe how I experienced some of the parts I found most moving and thought-provoking.
Fristoe didn’t just act the part, he lived it onstage, drawing on the energy of fellow actors Drew Cash as Alan, reprising the role from an Indiana University production, and Jamie Lentz, Tom Pettey, Alan Weller, Claire Sherman and Tim Kitchen.
Kitchen, who plays a horse and a rider in the same scene, in horse mode gives Alan a ride, hoisting him on his shoulders and galloping away! Although both actors were already strong and muscular, they had to practice the scene in a swimming pool to perfect the movements.
When Alan’s father cruelly pulls him off a horse, the young and beautiful Claire (Jennifer Thompson) consoles in the nude unrequited love scene. The scene is reminiscent of Greek statues brought to life. Your heart will go out to the young lovers. Roger told me that the young actors were blasé about nudity. The ads caution “mature audiences only,” which I won’t argue with. Still, the play has an innocent and childlike quality, which will touch almost anyone.
Alan Weller, a member of the English Speaking Union and an accomplished singer, amazed me with his portrayal of the angry owner of the six horses who were blinded by the character Alan, the act which put Dysart’s involvement with Alan, and the play’s action, in motion.
I can hardly write this personal account of my reaction to the total production without tears in my eyes. After the first act, the audience first applauded, then sat quietly, stunned, shaken and touched. At the end of the play, they applauded for what seemed like five minutes, then one by one left the theater and were greeted by the actors outside the door.
“Equus” runs through Aug. 7. For tickets, call 502.583.8222.
Category: The Social Side
About the Author (Author Profile)
Always out and about at happenings around town, Lucie Blodgett has been writing a weekly column for The Voice-Tribune for more than two decades.