Randy Harrison: Beyond QAF
Randy Harrison had just moved to New York in the summer of 2000 when he was offered a plum part in what promised to be a controversial new series: 17-year old Justin Taylor in Showtime?s American version of ?Queer as Folk.? In a matter of weeks he was filming the series in Toronto (the stand-in for Pittsburgh where the series was set,) and within the year in the media spotlight as the high school student who finds himself involved with that city?s leading hunk, advertising guru Brian Kinney (Gale Harold.) Their incendiary sex scene on the opening episode certainly pushed the envelope even for cable, and help set a pattern that made the series a break-out hit for the cable network long second banana to HBO.
Today the hit show, which has become a gay cultural icon over the past 5 years, is in its final weeks; and Harrison is returning to the stage -- his first love -- this summer as one of the leads in ?Equus,? Peter Shaffer?s 1974 play that?s being given a production at the Berkshire Theatre Festival through July 23. The blonde, 28 year old actor may still be thought of as Justin, who evolved from a na?ve teen in the thrall of the sexually-charged Brian to a gay-smart, independent young adult over the length of the series; but he now hopes to put the series behind him with fresh projects, such as the role of the seemingly adjusted stable boy named Alan Strang who blinds a half-dozen horses for no apparent reason and is sent to be cared for by a psychiatrist, Dr Martin Dysart in a mental hospital.
It was a part he has wanted to play since he first came across the play while attending college a decade ago in Cincinnati, and was able to secure an audition just as ?Queer as Folk? was winding down production. What attracted him to it are Alan?s psychological complexities.
?First of all the role is enormously challenging,? he explained last week. ?We just had a run through today and I?m about ready to collapse. It?s thoroughly exhausting and challenging in every way -- emotionally, intellectually, and physically. And it?s a great play -- it?s one of the great plays of the past 30 years. Its themes are so relevant and substantial and universal; when the opportunity came around, I jumped at it.?
A hit in London and New York (where it ran for more than 1200 performances,) ?Equus? is based on a real event, which sparked the imagination of Shaffer who conceived of it as psychological thriller in which the doctor must breakthrough into the boy?s psyche to understand what drove him to commit such a hideous crime.
?In the play the magistrate talks to the doctor telling him that Alan needs to see him because otherwise he?d be demonized by the community and no one would want to help him. He had committed the kind of hideous crime that no one wants to think about with any complexity -- they simply want to label him and put him away.
?But as the play develops the doctor is in a dilemma in that if he cures me he feels he?s taking away my individuality by putting me in a different set of shackles. So the question at the center of the play is he helping me to achieve my greatest potential, or simply making me what society thinks as normal? It?s a struggle for him, but in the end he decides to help me because he sees that Alan wants to be helped. But he never really acknowledges if this is the better choice.?
How does Harrison respond to a character who commits such a reprehensible act?
?He?s a difficult guy to relate to, but I personally have to like him. When I prepare for the role, I learn to empathize with him -- putting my self where he is. So I do like him. But I wonder if I encountered him on the street in a certain situation without the knowledge of him I have now that I would. He?s a fascinating character to play, and exhausting. I?m so exhausted after a full day of rehearsal that I can?t do anything else. I?m just not functioning on such a high level at the end of the day because it is so draining. But I don?t bring home any of the baggage from the show because it is just so draining to carry around.?