Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Equus"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


by Peter Shaffer
Directed by Nancy Curran Willis

Set Design by Jim Lynch Lighting Design by Ken Lord
Costume Design by Jon Carter, Diane Kane
Choreography by Monica Bruno
Choral Composition by Bret Silverman
Horses' Heads by Robert Canterbury
Hooves by Alan Sedrish
Stage Managers Judy Forgione, John Murtagh

Martin Dysart..........Fred Robbins
Alan Strang..............Tom Berry
Hester Salomon........Pamela Schweppe
Dora Strang..............Anna Brown
Frank Strang.............Jim Ansart
Jill Mason.................Sharon Elliott
Nurse........................Ann Weber
Dalton.......................Miles Cares
Nugget/Lead Horseman.....Mark A. Cafazzo
Alexis Avila
Monica Bruno
Derek Clark
Darrick Jackson
Christopher Seifert

When the playreading committee at Jamaica Plain's Footlight Club voted to do "Equus" it was understood that it had to be done by an excellent director. When Nancy Curran Willis collected the cast she knew they would work well together. When Fred Robbins read for the central part of child psychiatrist Martin Dysart he knew he wanted the part. And on opening night, everyone connected with this seamlessly integrated, powerful production knew they had made it a stunning success.

At the core of the play is Dysart's personal crisis of professional and personal confidence. He is, he admits, an expert trickster making his patient tell him merely what the young boy wants desperately to share about his reasons for gashing the eyes out of a stable of six horses --- horses he obviously loved more than he could any human being. Dysart says he can "cure" him --- can take away his pain, but with it his passion. He will never gallop again naked on the bare back of a stallion under the midnight moon trying to turn himself into a centaur. It is through those passionate speeches in which Fred Robbins' Dysart wrestles with the morality of his job that Peter Shaffer's play truly sings.

Yet it is never a one-man show at all. He wrestles with Tom Berry as the tormented seventeen-year-old wanting and not-wanting help. Through hypnosis he relives and shows the incidents that brought him first into court and then to the psychiatric hospital, including harrowing re-enactments of sudden, desperate, shattering acts.

And yet it's not a two-character show either. The other dozen actors all sit calmly, quietly on both sides of the central cock pit until it's time to step onto that stage to become a sympathetic judge (Pamela Schweppe) or the boy's bewildered, embarrassed, defensive parents (Anna Brown and Jim Ansart), the angry owner of the stable (Miles Cares), a nurse (Ann Weber), or the provocative girl who seduced him, there in the stable, precipitating the crisis (Sharon Elliot), or those proud, prancing, witnessing horses. Each one of these roles, however brief, however intense, however realistic or symbolic or ritualistic or pivotal, adds its insightful sparks to the emotional blaze. And the eerie choral chant/songs (by Bret Silverman) that introduce each act add immeasurably to the effect of Jim Lynch's boldly spare set, Robert Canterbury's masks, Alan Sedrish's hooves, and Monica Bruno's choreography.

The play shows sex, ritual, religion, and psychosis all twisted and intertwined with a doctor's doubts of himself. Act one ends with a spinning, ritualized enactment of a barebacked midnight ride as erotic as sex itself that looks like an untoppable climax --- until act two tops it. After seeing the boy's first dirty movie the girl entices him into naked sex which is so overshadowed by the emotional storms it provokes that anyone thinking this show pornographic must be one with the stolidly raincoated audience at the movie itself.

This is exactly the adult, life-evoking, life-affirming theatrical stuff that an old, robust, respected Community Theater like The Footlight Club alone has the expertise and experience to attempt. From their playreading committee down to the builders and the ushers, everyone connected with this production, all along the way, made exactly the right choices. This is a stunning success.


"Equus" (till 24 April
7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide