BWW Reviews: Superb EQUUS at the Spotlighters

With EQUUS, the Spotlighters Theatre puts on what may well be the best show I've seen them perform. All aspects of the production are superbly executed, and the intimate space is an ideal venue for this taut psychodrama written by Peter Shaffer (Amadeus).

What would drive a 17-year-old boy to take a sharp rod and blind six horses in a stable one night? Psychiatrist DR. Martin Dysart presents us with this shocking conundrum and proceeds to start unraveling the tangled mind of young Alan Strang.

Director Sherrionne Brown knows how to maintain the tense energy required to pull off this complex story. She does not shy away from the more difficult moments, and this total commitment to each scene is reflected in the cast and crew.

Thomas Bowers gives an intensely focused performance as the troubled boy. You never doubt the dark agony of his character's inner struggle. Bowers becomes Strang, and when the full extent of his psychotic dream life is revealed, it is disturbing to watch but he compels you to look.

As the weary but likable Dysart, Phil Gallagher is outstanding as the anchor Strang must cling to if he will remain functional in the real world. He is inspired to help even though he questions his success and his relevance at life's midpoint. When Hesther Salomon(played thoughtfully by Karina Ferry), pleads with him to take this difficult case, his own conflicts take on new meaning.

Kathryn Falcone and Frank Vince expertly portray Alan's bewildered parents. They are an oddly sympathetic pair. She is hyper-religious where he is an atheist. She is emotional where he is rational. She is a romantic where he is controlling and practical. Their influence on Alan's behavior is considered, but in the end it seems that Alan's illness is larger than all the parts of his life.

It is in fact Alan's encounter with a young woman, Jill Mason (appealingly played by Kerry Brady), which proves to be the event that tips over a mind on the edge of sanity.

As Dysart wends his way into the dark interior of Strang's strange world, we are given remarkable re-enactments of his life as a stable boy who worships the horses-literally. They are the totem gods of a wildly irrational mind that seeks to be free from the constraints of real and imagined chains.

The horses also serve as the chorus like that of an ancient Greek drama. The choreography (Alani Harris) and its execution are remarkable thanks to the actors assigned to these unusual roles ( Ruta Douglas Smith, Megan Farber, Kevin Gordon, Alani Harris, Warren "Smitters" Smith). Along with the eerie lighting and sound (Brad J. Ranno), these scenes are haunting and harrowing.

Equus is not for the faint of heart. Though today's audience may be more jaded than the original, the material remains challenging and disturbing. Written in 1973, EQUUS reflects dated ideas concerning mental illness and aberrant behavior. There was a desire to equate the agony and flight of ideas of the mentally ill with passion and creativity.

But thanks to its unique stylistic elements and verbal beauty, EQUUS remains a classic. And like other great works it can be lifted from the context of its own time and reinterpreted for a new one. Some may see an excellent clinical presentation of one boy's schizophrenia. The Oedipal Complex hinted at may now fall under the domain of dysfunctional families. The story of wild displaced passion could serve as a metaphor for homosexuality that was hidden and misunderstood. From any angle, the Spotlighters EQUUS is powerful theater.

EQUUS runs now through May 5 at the Spotlighters Theatre, 817 St. Paul Street. Tickets may be purchased by calling (410) 752-1225 or going online at

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From This Author Tina Saratsiotis