Studio theater show Equus a big hit

Tanya Marsh

Tanya Marsh

When “Equus” graced the stage of SDSU’s studio theater for 10 performances in the past two weeks, it was a unique experience for more than one reason. The highly dramatic psychological thriller not only kept audiences on their toes; it also was the final show to be performed in the studio theater.

Sophomore Perry Anderson, Jr., played the part of Martin Dysart, the psychologist in the play. He said he felt some regret about leaving the studio theater for the Performing Arts Center, which should be completed next year. “It’s kind of sad anytime you leave something that’s been running that long, and a lot of people have memories,” he said, “but moving into the new facility is definitely exciting because it will present new opportunities … It’s going to be fun.”

Anderson said he feels studio plays have that special spark, which makes it hard to leave. Of his role in “Equus,” he said, “It’s probably been the most positive experience [I’ve had] in a play?when it’s in the studio it’s all better.”

Senior Dietr Poppen, who was heavily involved in the play as the assistant director, stage manager and co-sound designer, said he felt “Equus” was an appropriate end to the studio theater performances.

“I know we picked a really good show to leave with,” he said. “We’ve been in there for quite a few years and there’ve been some really entertaining performances in there, and I think this one was a really good way to round off the season.”

Poppen said the theater holds personal meaning. “I’ve had a lot of good memories in there myself … a lot of sentimental value with cast and crew, and we’re all happy to be a part of the last show,” he said.

More than simply the end of the studio theater, this play also represents the end of Director James L. Johnson’s career. For this reason, Poppen felt Equus was a fitting end to both the studio theater and Johnson’s time with the theater department.

“Dr. Johnson, who is retiring soon, has voiced how he’s wanted to do things challenging or new before he retires?go out with a bang,” he said. “This is a very exciting piece of work, both challenging the cast and more importantly the audience.” There were many elements of “Equus” that made it an intense play?one that is “not something the audience [is] able to sit back and not think about,” Poppen said.

First and foremost is simply the story line. Evans described the play as “a psychological thriller between a doctor and his patient. The 17-year-old boy is the patient, and he has been thrown in a psychiatric clinic because he went on a spree and blinded six horses with a metal spear. Basically, it’s just a look at a series of flashbacks on why he did what he did, the psychiatrist trying to figure out why he did it.”

The play was a difficult one for all involved. Poppen said, “[Being] assistant director was very challenging for me?I’m used to seeing a show from onstage, or as lights designer, and it was a challenge working with the actors, developing characters, adding onto everything the director was doing,” he said.

His other tasks also proved difficult. “The sound design was quite challenging as well,” he said, explaining how the setting of the play is the mid-1970s in England. “It was a challenge to make the sound fit stylistically and also be contemporary, something that would fit the mood overall, while keeping from going crazy.”

Poppen said Anderson found his role as psychiatrist to be challenging as well. “For me personally, [the hardest part] was trying to find out how this person fits into this complex script,” he said. The way his character interacted with others was also a challenge, he said. “He presents a different character to each member of the cast in order to get what he wants,” Anderson said.

Another thing that made “Equus” so intense was its content of vulgar language and partial nudity. Despite the intensity of the play, Evans said audiences reacted well.

“The audiences have had a really positive reaction to the play,” he said. “They’ve been impressed by the actors.”

Evans said that because of the proximity of the studio theater, some of the elements of the play were more overpowering than they would have been otherwise. “[The audience is] closer to the actors,” he said. “They were overwhelmed but very impressed.”

Poppen agreed. “There’s violence, different in comparison to most other shows, [because] it’s in the studio, right there in everyone’s faces, and it affected people on a much more personal level,” he said. For example, “The partial nudity — something in Donor Auditorium wouldn’t be as effective but you get into the studio and it really hits you.” Despite this, Poppen said the play has been well received. “The audience was very accepting of it,” he said. “The play is so well written that the audience at that point is warmed up to it and isn’t shocked by it.” Evans agreed. “I haven’t heard a single complaint,” he said. “It’s all done very tastefully; it’s not crude.” Because of the maturity with which these subjects were handled, the play was a big success. “I’ve heard nothing but good reports about it,” Poppen said. “It really made [the audience] think. They were very impressed and taken up with the whole story.”

There is evidence of the popularity of “Equus”: the number of tickets sold. Poppen said, “I got back on Tuesday and the show was sold out every night, and the waiting list had 40 people — for a studio show, that’s pretty good.” He added, “The word is getting around, that it is the show that a lot of people shouldn’t miss. . .”