BWW Reviews: Matthew C. Logan's Production of EQUUS is Intense and Beautifully Poignant
Director Matthew C. Logan and his stellar cast delve into English playwright Peter Shaffer's pyschodramatic play about a disturbed youth's fanatical obsession with horses. Written in 1973 and inspired by true events, EQUUS is certainly challenging material concerning the heavy themes of religion, sexuality, passion and normalism in society. The ensemble faces the material with unflinching conviction.
Taking the audience on his journey of psychoanalyses is Dr. Martin Dysart. He is a renowned child psychiatrist who feels trapped by life's monotonous routine and is reluctant to take on any new patients. His friend, the magistrate Hester Saloman, brings him the case of Alan Strang, the boy who was arrested for blinding several horses with a metal spike. She sees something special in Alan, and knows that with his ability to cure disturbed youth, Dysart will see something as well. Intrigued, he takes on the mystery of young Alan Strang .
In order to unfold the mystery of Alan's mind, Dysart becomes sort of a detective profiler. Between examinations of Alan and his parents, unveiled is Alan's difficult family situation in a home filled with fanatical religion, sexual repression and expression of self. Between the pressures of his devotedly religious mother's suffocating idea of God and his stern atheist Dad, who hinders anything remotely enjoyable,Alan creates his own expression in religious form of the horse god Equus. It is this complete surrender and worship, coupled with intense psychosexual attractions that play factors for his crime.
It is befitting to wonder how well adept Dr.Dysart is at even helping Alan. In an effort to understand the boy, we see his own plaguing thoughts bare forward. Suddenly he faces his own inner turmoil as a middle aged man who is devoid of passion in his monotonous life. Dysart wonders if his rehabilitation of Alan into what society perceives as "normality" is worth the boy losing his passion and sense of worship. Dysart believes that loosing those is a loss of one's sense of self. He is envious of Alan's ability to feel, and he struggles with the decision of curing him. Doing so would be sentencing him to the customary level of normal where expression is frowned upon and a homogeneous society reigns supreme.
Kevin Daugherty is quite eloquent as Dr. Dysart. During the enlightenment of his own situational deprivation he becomes defeated and vulnerable. Daugherty's demeanor grows weighted with his emotions. It is with portrayal of his character's weakness that we begin to understand the doctor's envy of Alan. His soliloquy at the play's end is honestly compelling.
Ed Theakston fully commits in the role of young and disturbed Alan Strang. His every action is so powerful, whether he's spitting out one syllable lines or running around stage in a maddening frenzy. All of his actions give depth to his character's mental state. With tortured eyes he actualizes Alan's complete and total nirvana with his horse god in a way that is both unsettling yet memorizing. Theakston perfectly executes a coming of age gone awry.
As Alan's parents Jody T. Morse (Dora Strang) and Rhett Martinez (Frank Stang) are convincing in having an influence on their son. Morse's frustration with the situation is intense and her monologue to Dysart concerning Alan is persuading. Martinez's detachment from him son is well shown with his stoic nature.
Mykle McCoslin (Hester Saloman) portrays a friendly figure that is quite compassionate of Dysart. She seems to be the most reasonable character in the play with her positive reassurances.
Natasha Marie Gualy (Jill Mason) is enticing with her liveliness. With her easy going nature, she symbolizes what Alan is not. It is this nature that facilitates Alan's ultimate act.
EQUUS deals with heavy themes, and it is no surprise that the tone of the play is dark, daunting, and sensual. The lighting design by Matthew C. Logan played heavily upon the tone and worked very well with the layers of the play. For such layered play, the stage's set up is simplistic. The stage is equipped with several benches which move around setting the illusion for other places in the story. One of the most interesting visuals is the placement of the horses in their stables.
Director Matthew C. Logan's production of EQUUS is tense, vexing and oddly profound. It was difficult to pry my eyes away. With such a tribal and ritualistic feel to it, I was torn between wishing that I could pause the show in order to alleviate some of its intensity and speeding the show up in order to see it unfold. It's a play that can prove to be mentally taxing but at the end of the day, the best thing to do when seeing this piece is to completely engage it with an open mind and welcome the thought provoking process that follows. I certainly digested it all the way home.
EQUUS runs July 24 - 26 & July 31 - August 2 at the Frenetic Theater in Houston, TX. For Tickets and more information visit http://www.equusinhouston.com.
Photos courtesy of Matthew C. Logan