“That play and that experience — what’s that lovely word? Seminal.” Actor Kryztov Lindquist was talking about Equus.
Thirty-three years ago, at Source Theatre Company on 14th Street, Lindquist played Alan Strang in a hit production of Peter Shaffer’s ground-breaking, award-winning play. The production opened in early December of 1982 and ran until May of 1983.
Today, in the same building, still a theater, still called Source (although the company of that name no longer exists as a producing organization), Constellation Theatre Company, one of the constituent companies that occupies Source, is presenting the same play.
Besides Alan, the other leading role in Equus is Dr. Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist who is treating Alan after the boy has blinded a stable full of horses. Michael Kramer plays Dysart in the current production. After a recent performance, chatting with me in the lobby, he remembered seeing that earlier production.
In a subsequent email, Kramer told me that he had been in his second year of grad school at Catholic University. “I ventured down to Source — which in those days was challenging — to their production of Equus. It was astonishing. I think it was [the critic] David Richards who championed the production from the pulpit of the Washington Post in his review (although all the reviews were great), exhorting people to come to 14th Street, to risk the evening, because here was something special — that DC theatre, small fledgling companies, not just Arena Stage, were creating something special. And the audience came and witnessed not just a great play, but a great production.”
Constellation’s production opened last month to acclaim. Jane Horwitz in The Washington Post praised “Constellation Theatre Company’s polished and perceptive revival, fluidly staged by Amber McGinnis Jackson,” while on DCTS.com, Jessica Pearson wrote, “Committed performances and masterful design make Constellation Theatre Company’s Equus well worth seeing.” (It runs through February 14th.)
Constellation has made a point of embracing the Source precedent production to an unusual degree. The industry night (a Monday night performance scheduled so that working actors have a chance to see the show on their night off) was preceded by a happy hour reunion event, to which Pat Murphy Sheehy, Source’s Producing Artistic Director Emeritus, invited the Source alum network.
Constellation’s Founding Artistic Director Allison Arkell Stockman wrote to me, “I’m always excited to embrace Source’s rich past. Source Festival is the first place I had a chance to work in town and I know so many wonderful artists have come through here.”
Kramer, in his email, recalled, “I still have vivid memories of [Source founder and then-Artistic Director] Bart Whiteman [as Dysart] in a blue suit, commanding the stage; the ethereal, menacing horses; Kryztov Lindquist in fragile, twisted torment; Robert McNamara’s brilliant direction.”
A lobby display includes pictures from that earlier production, as well as a letter from the Oscar-winning and Tony-winning actress Marcia Gay Harden, who, as a young actor beginning her career, had been cast by McNamara at Source in the pivotal role of Jill Mason.
McNamara, who subsequently founded SCENA Theatre and remains its Artistic Director, recalled Harden’s audition in an email: “Marcia Gay auditioned the very last day of auditions. I remember it well. She almost did not make it…she said, ‘Am I too late?’ I replied no, that I would be glad to read her. And I did.”
Lindquist told me, “I saw an ad in the Post for the Equus auditions and spent the whole day reading with various Dysarts and Jills. I don’t remember reading with Marcia, but I must have.”
Lindquist had come to that audition already with a strong connection to the play. “When I first saw it, I was totally blown away by it.” Lindquist got busy and scored an audition to play Alan on Broadway. By then, the original leads (Anthony Hopkins and Peter Firth) had left the production, replaced by Anthony Perkins and a young Tom Hulce, who had not yet made any movies.
“The first audition — for Dexter [John Dexter, director of the original production in London and subsequently on Broadway] —was the result of a cattle call of which I was third in line.
“The second was when I tracked him down at the Met, where he was directing an opera, spoke to him on the phone, and asked to be seen again.”
As he advanced through the audition process, Lindquist contacted Hulce. “I sent him a telegram and told him I was going to audition again. He called me and invited me to dinner after the show one night. That was totally unexpected and very gracious of him. He critiqued my Equus tape monologue after he accompanied me to a class with my coach.”
Lindquist recalled “a wonderful piece of advice” from Hulce about the director Lindquist was to audition before. During the play’s many monologues, Dexter “really appreciated stillness” from an actor, unless movement was specifically called for.
Lindquist shared another memory of his audition for Dexter, renowned for being exacting as well as for being innovative: “The first time I auditioned, he walked down the aisle, put his hands on the stage, called me over, and said, ‘I want you to do it again and, pardon me for putting it this way, but I want you to do it as if you were masturbating; not physically, but mentally.'”
As it turned out, Lindquist was deemed too tall for the role, in particular as the incoming Dysart was the legendary Richard Burton, who, although he famously commanded the stage, was, at 5’10’’, not particularly tall. “I was devastated. It was my first real, big rejection.”
So how did Lindquist end up in a production in Washington? “I had been at American Academy of Dramatic Arts, done some Off-Off-Broadway plays and ballets with [legendary dancer Rudolph] Nureyev, researched [poet Arthur] Rimbaud in Europe, and had had some luck while visiting family in Maryland getting work in DC as well (at New Playwrights’ Theatre, in a Nureyev ballet, etc.) On one of those visits, I saw an ad in the Post for the Equus auditions. I, of course, was heartbroken when I was not cast for the Broadway production, so I was elated and thankful that a few years later the opportunity would present itself again. I leapt at the chance.”
Although Lindquist opened and closed the show, he was not the only Alan. He suffered a performance injury. (It involved jumping from posts that were part of the set onto the back of an actor playing a horse.) “I couldn’t finish the play after the end of the first act.”
One of the actors cast as a horse was Romain Frugé, who has gone on to a career doing musicals in New York, including playing a lead in the original cast of The Full Monty. “I suggested Romain take over. I heard he did a really great job.”
Another very busy and accomplished DC actor who was in the cast was Ian Armstrong. “Robert came to a college production of a Molière play I was in, directed by Virginia Freeman, and asked me to understudy Kryztov….and be a horse.”
Kramer recalled, “That production ran for months, the cast changing. Ian Armstrong, who played one of the horses, related to me that alumni cast members would join the cast on stage in trench coats for the movie theatre scene when they came back to see the show.”
Another artist importantly involved in the show was Jack Guidone, who is no longer alive, but who had an enormous impact on the DC scene. As a tribute to him, Guidone’s name adorns a Joy of Motion performance space. Guidone’s close friend Zoe Cowan wrote to me about his involvement in Equus:
“Jack was not only cast as one of the horses in Equus, he did the choreography for the horses and made all six masks as well.
“I first met Jack at GWU in the fall of 1981. He was the most amazing Movement for Theatre professor I’d ever had — creative and generous with an infectious energy that drew everyone he met into his orbit. Jack was a whirlwind of activity. He was a founding member of the Joy of Motion dance studio, an instructor at local universities, and a working actor. After Equus, he set up a studio in his large row-house on Florida Avenue and taught volunteers how to build masks made from Celastic material. Then he formed Axolotl, a performance art company that collaborated with outside artists, including composers, writers, and designers, to produce original plays and musicals. He also worked closely with Video Free Earth, writing, directing, and acting in cutting-edge LGBT material.
“Jack was incredibly proud of the Equus horse masks. They were hugely challenging to build by himself in his apartment at the Chastleton in Dupont Circle. I remember him talking about how difficult it was to make them. The masks were made from wires twisted around a wire frame, and even though he wore gloves, the material cut into his hands. Pieces of decorative leather were also included on the masks and they were built with a padded piece that went around the actor’s head. The masks were large enough to fit over an actor’s head, and open so the actors playing the horses could be seen. Even though he tried to make them as lightweight as possible, they were still heavy to wear and I believe at least one of the actors got headaches from them. (Nothing’s perfect, eh?) Also, each mask was a slightly different design to distinguish the different horses.”
Like Guidone, Lindquist’s Dysart, Bart Whiteman, is also no longer alive, and is a legend in Washington theatre. Bart was a was a mentor and a colleague of mine. Though often remembered as a director, a teacher, and the founder of a theatre, Bart was an actor. He loved to act. I will never forget his astonishingly vivid Kit Carson in The Time of Your Life, or his fearless Jerry in The Zoo Story. (Okay, I directed him in that, but many others who saw the performance will endorse my judgment.)
I remember seeing the Source Equus twice, and recall that Bart played Dysart as a man who was uncomfortable with people and was definitely not particularly empathic.
Lindquist seconded my memory. “He was hard-edged, no doubt about that. The moments of empathy were few and far between. But, in monologues, there were moments where he let the façade of gruffness down. My memory is that Bart and I were the only ones that lasted the entire run.”
Lindquist told me that, before acting in the Source production, he had watched the play many, many nights, with different Dysarts,” I asked him who stood out in his memory. “Burton was the most memorable. Perkins did a wonderful job, but Burton — maybe it was his voice, I don’t know. But he really showed a vulnerable side. He was not afraid to do that.”
And who was his favorite actor playing what eventually became his role? “The best Alan? I have to say Peter Firth. He was just magnetic. And Tom was wonderful.”
I also asked Lindquist how he feels that the play has aged. “I come from a biased position, but I loved the play and still do. The theatricality of the play holds up pretty well. I think it will be around and last.”
Lindquist, though he is now based in New York, went on to work all over DC, not only at Source (A Prayer for My Daughter, Time Remembered, Krieg, and La Bete, for which he was Helen Hayes nominated), but also at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (Mud People), Shakespeare Theatre Company (Julius Caesar), and as a founding company member at SCENA Theatre (Endgame). But I asked him if it was his role as the horse-blinding boy in Equus that remains particularly special to him.
It was “the beginning, the first real success. I had never been reviewed by a major paper before. It was my biggest challenge up to that point, and the most satisfying. I’ve loved doing Beckett and other things with Robert [McNamara.] I’ve been on bigger stages since.” He then invoked that “lovely word” seminal.
Which segues into Kramer’s estimation of the Source production’s importance in the development of DC’s indigenous theatre scene.
“That seedling audience took root on 14th Street. Of course, that audience would continue to be nurtured by succeeding Source productions, and the immense artistry of Joy Zinoman and the Studio Theatre, and Howard Shalwitz and Woolly Mammoth Theatre, but that lay largely in the future.
“For Constellation to re-visit Equus in the Source theatre was so fitting.”
And Lindquist ended with, “It was a wild exhilarating ride those many months. And may I add that I want to extend my very best wishes to Constellation Theater on their run.”