Audie Gemora-all set for "Equus"

Audie Gemora-all set for "Equus"
By Walter Ang
May 31, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The play "Equus" re-entered the public's awareness when it was revived on London's West End, and later on Broadway, a few years back with Daniel Radcliffe (otherwise known as The-actor-who-plays-Harry-Potter) as the lead character Alan Strang.

Also in the news was the fact that Radcliffe had to spend quite a bit of time onstage fully naked, as required by the role.

These are two major considerations that Audie Gemora is contending with as he prepares to direct this play for Repertory Philippines. He reckons that there will be people in Manila who will watch the show because of the Hollywood connection and of the nudity in it "but that's not what the play is about," he says.

The play, written by Peter Schaffer, is about a psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, who attempts to treat a young man, Strang, who has a pathological fascination with horses replete with religious and sexual overtones.

It premiered in 1973 in London and moved to Broadway, winning the Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Foreign Play, New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play and the Tony Award for Best Play.

Despite the material's sensitive topics, the staging it behooves, the unpredictability of how Manila audiences might react, and the challenge of finding an actor who's willing to accept the role of Strang, Gemora is calm and confident. He throws his shoulders back and says, "It's going to be easy."

Rep staged Equus in the late 70s with Leo Martinez as Strang and Jose Mari Avellana as Dysart. "Part of the decision to restage it this year was because of the awareness that the Radcliffe production had created," he says. "People are excited to see what the play is all about."

Rep artistic director Baby Barredo had invited Gemora to be part of the company's Arts Council, the group that selects the plays and musicals that are included in their season line-ups. "We threw around some ideas and this play came up, although I didn't even think they would seriously choose it."

At a casual get together earlier this year, not only did Barredo inform Gemora that the play was already in the line-up, she also assigned him to helm it. "At first I really didn't want to do it because the play is serious and heavy and I'm known more for directing musicals. But I didn't buckle."

Actors' director
He's read the text and points out that all the play needs to get off the ground is "good acting." "I consider myself an actors' director," notes this recipient of 2009 Philstage Gawad Buhay for Outstanding Male Lead Performance in a Musical (for Sweeny Todd).

Gemora has appeared in numerous productions, such as A Chorus Line, Evita, West Side Story, Amadeus, and Les Miserables for Repertory Philippines; Florante at Laura, El Filibusterismo, and Noli Me Tangere for Tanghalang Pilipino; and Joseph the Dreamer, and First Name for Trumpets.

Aside from being an actor and director for the stage, Gemora also does work for television (he's a judge on a TV talent show), is a recording artist, dancer, choreographer, host, and voice talent for commercials.

This interview was conducted after the auditions and Gemora is currently selecting the cast. He plans to cast a young actor close to the age of Strang to provide audiences with a fresh perspective. "I want the actor to work on instinct versus relying on a mannered approach to the role," he says. "I want someone without too much theater training so he will not `act' so much."

Beyond the intention to cast strong actors to support the lead, Gemora plans to spend "hours and hours" with the cast to dissect the underyling truths and emotions of the text and contextualizing the psychiatric modes used in the story.

"This play is set a few years after the 60s, when there was a school of thought premised on the acceptability of insanity. People were asking `what is normal exactly?'" he says.

"In this day and age when we have children killing more than thirty people in their schools in one go, what Strang does in the play seems to pale in comparison. Audiences will wonder what the big deal is all about. So it's not about the case nor the boy per se."

Gemora points out that "contrary to what people think, the play is actually about the psychiatrist and how he sees all that's missing from his life when he encounters Strang's passion for his, albeit in a very weird form, `religion.'" "And that," he says "is as deep as it gets."

"Equus" runs July 9 to 25 at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, Ayala Mall. Call 887-0711, 887-0737 or 887-0742.

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