Thursday, June 9, 2016

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part LXIII

Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

Peter Shaffer
has died.
SIR Peter Shaffer!

I met Peter through a friend in Paris, a British lawyer who (as a very young man) was a soccer player as was Peter. They remained friends throughout their lives.
Peter invited me to dinner one evening during the run of his hit play, "The Royal Hunt of the Sun." Before we went on, he had to stop at the theater. And while he occupied himself in the office, I was invited to watch the second act.

The play involved the war of wits between the Spanish conquistador Pizarro and the Inca king Atahualpa. The worldly conqueror against a godlike younger man. The older man prevails but it's a Pyrrhic victory leaving the older man victorious but sadly empty. It was a great success for Peter and placed him among the top rank of playwrights.
We went to Elaine's up on Second Avenue and since I'd recently been there with Harper Lee, Elaine was nice to me. She had no idea who I was, but must have thought if I was okay for them I was okay with her!
During dinner, Peter was telling me about a recent relationship that he'd been having with a much younger guy and that after it had ended it had been somewhat emotionally turbulent for him.

I found myself thinking about "The Royal Hunt of the Sun" and how this was a distinct echo of the second act I'd just watched! Pizarro and Atahualpa, the older man with worldly power and the much younger man whose superior "power" was his mystical youth being the son of the Sun God!
When "Amadeus" came out, I couldn't help but notice the similarity of an accomplished and worldly Salieri being effortlessly undone by a much younger, divinely gifted Mozart.
And then, years later I went with friends to a performance of "Equus" early in the run with Anthony Hopkins as a worldly psychiatrist trying to understand and treat a mysterious and mystical younger man who'd been blinding horses due to a pathological religious fixation.

I was struck by Hopkins' resemblance to Peter and remembered having read in the Times that Peter Firth, playing the young man, was staying at Peter's apartment with him while in New York. This made the play even more electrifying for me and at the end I was somewhere else, thinking about Peter and Hopkins and Firth, Salieri and Mozart and Pizarro and Atahualpa — and immediately the first person I bumped into was Peter!
Richard Burton and Peter Firth in the 1977 film. Burton also played Dr. Dysart on Broadway in 1976.
He greeted me, but I was so full of thoughts, comparisons and realizations of the repetitious theme and also remembering the heavy emotional performances, that I wasn't able to speak and with what I realized was a wild expression, couldn't utter a sound no matter how I tried!
Equus was revived in 2007 with Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang.
Peter with Daniel Radcliffe.
Later, I wrote Peter an apologetic note but didn't explain my realization of Art mirroring Life as it seemed too personal.

He wrote back a reassuring message on a postcard with a Salvador Dali representation of a horse telling me he quite understood.

But I don't think that he did.
R.I.P. Peter.
Contact Bob here.
Click here for NYSD Contents