The average college student probably knows about Peter Shaffer’s play “Equus” because Daniel Radcliffe shed his Harry Potter character (and clothes) for a 2007 West End production. However, there is a lot more to this psychotic drama than seeing the boy wizard nude, and Blackbird Theatre, which premiered the play yesterday, intends to reveal the deeper qualities.
Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m. through March 19th
Tickets from $15
“It’s not done as often as I think it should be,” said Blackbird’s founder and managing artistic director Barton Bund. “I think it’s a modern classic, just like anything Arthur Miller wrote or Tennessee Williams wrote.”
“Equus” tells the story of psychiatrist Martin Dysart’s treatment of Alan Strang, a young boy who develops a sexual attraction to horses. As Dysart learns more about Strang’s family life and religious values through psychoanalysis and hypnosis exercises, it becomes clear that Strang’s erotic fascination with the animals has several disturbing components.
“It’s got a lot of elements to it that are very challenging,” Bund said. “It’s a piece that depends on the actors’ commitment and nothing else.”
The play is one of Bund’s favorites, and the company has been waiting to tackle the challenge since its founding. Once the stars finally aligned and the right director and cast came along, Bund knew that the time was now.
“It’s a very poetic piece. Here we are, nearly 13 years after we started and we’re finally getting to it,” he said. “I’m really happy about it.”
While the play is geared toward a mature audience, Bund encourages people not to miss out on the fascinating plotline, which grapples with child-parent relationships, psychotherapy and religion, along with numerous other issues. He calls the show, which includes nudity and has the feel of a dark horror movie, provocative and intense, and said that the “brilliant, young and very good-looking cast” will help to draw people in and become involved in the play.
When Bund started Blackbird Theatre in Ypsilanti in 1998 with some of his fellow college students, he had a less-famous play in tow. He had written a script and was shopping it to some local theatres, when he decided to take matters into his own hands and put on the show himself. One thing led to another, and Bund and his group continue to build their body of work.
“We did school and professional work outside of that, but continued to have a company where we felt like we could do the stuff we were most passionate about,” he said.
Bund chose to name the company Blackbird Theatre, partially as a reference to the Beatles’ song of the same name. The line “All your life / You were only waiting for this moment to arise,” encapsulates how Bund feels about the completion of his company.
“We had this weird thing happen before we opened our first show,” Bund said. “A huge gathering of blackbirds came around the building. It’s just a name that has some power for us. It’s just kind of who we are.”
After being in Ann Arbor for seven years, the company has relocated to Braun Court, across the street from Kerrytown. With between 40 and 50 seats, Bund said the new space allows the actors to look into each other’s eyes and become immersed in their acting, without having to concern themselves with being loud enough for the audience to hear them — the ideal venue for performances of “Equus.”
“It’s a play that’s absolute madness,” he said. “It’s close and it’s hot and sweaty. There’s a lot to think about when you’re done with it. I think people are in for a really exciting night.”