Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Equus"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark


by Peter Shaffer
Directed by Brian Triber
Masks Designed by Lisa Guarino
Stage Manager Marty Simmons

Martin Dysart............Robert Bonotto
Nurse............................Olivia Doran
Hesther Salomon......Trudi Goodman
Alan Strang...................Gary Schaaf
Dora Strang..................Julie Dapper
Frank Strang.............Rick Winterson
Horseman/Nugget.............Louis See
Dalton............................Dan Wilson
Jill Mason.........................Kelly Tew

In the Ubiquity Stage production of "Equus" the story unfolds pretty much as a dialogue of psychiatrist Martin Dysart with the audience --- as he tries to justify, or maybe just to understand, himself. Everything that takes place, the conversations, interviews, psychiatric sessions, recreations, are always illustrations of Dysart's frame of mind. If the case he's examining weren't so eerily shocking, if Dysart didn't see it as a clinical success but a personal failure, if the actors he comes in contact with weren't so humanly alive, it might feel like nothing more than a dry documentary case-history. But it's not.

Robert Bonotto's Dysart, in glasses and small beard and suit-jacket, admits he is all tricks, admits he's good at it, yet takes no joy in any of his victories. Trudi Goodman as a very human prosecutor, and perhaps his only true friend, brings him only problem-kids because she trusts his talent for cures; and even though the boy who has blinded a stablefull of horses really wants his painful memories exposed, shared, and assuaged, the doctor envies the boy's bizarre fantasies of god-like union with horses, and regrets making him "normal".

Only Dysart has identity outside the story. Each person in this docu-drama steps into the office/stage completely and directly honest. Gary Schaaf is petulantly hesitant as the young patent, yet ultimately eager to tell his tale. Julie Dapper and Rick Winterson as his parents are each insistent that their love for him couldn't possibly have gone wrong. Olivia Doran's cheerfully efficient nurse and Dan Wilson's vindictive stable-owner are equally direct and simple. Even Kelly Tew as the girl who seduced him only expects he'll be, though shyer, like any other boy she's taken a fancy to.

But then there are those horses. The cast sits onstage, on bales of hay, outside the office/stage throughout the play, but ritually don Lisa Guarino's twisted-wire horse-heads as a chorus --- the court of the worshipped god Equus. And as the boy's favorite, Nugget, Louis See is ridden, and worshipped.

This is not a new play, and the concept of an isolated teen-ager twisting religious conflicts and personal fantasies into an ultimately murderous act is, unfortunately, not so unique anymore as it was thirty years ago. What was a horrifying trek into the outré looks too much now like a familiar docu-drama of psychological fact. But that is not a fault of Brian Triber as director, or the Ubiquity Stage company. Perhaps Columbine's high school has made Peter Shaffer's play a little too ordinary for contemporary taste.


"Equus" (till 5 August)
Tower Auditorium, Massachusetts Coillege of Art, 621 Huintington Avenue, BOSTON

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