BWW Review: EQUUS at the Barn Players One of the Best Dramatic Pieces in Kansas City Theater
Equus, one of the most amazing dramatic productions in Kansas City this year captivated the sparse crowd on opening night, Friday July 31 at The Barn Players. Do not expect uproarious laughter or musical gaiety in Equus, but you can expect to see some of the finest dramatic acting to reach Kansas City stages.
Equus ran in London from 1973 and 1975 before moving to the stage on Broadway. On Broadway, notable actors Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Leonard Nimoy, and Anthony Perkins starred in the role of Dr. Dysart. The Broadway production ran for 1,209 performances and received the 1975 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1975 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Foreign Play.
Inspired by a crime committed by a 17-year-old in Suffolk who blinded six horses Peter Shaffer wrote Equus in 1973. Shaffer tells the story of Dr. Martin Dysart, a child psychiatrist, who at the bequest of a magistrate takes on Alan Strang the youth who committed the crime. His attempts to discover what caused the boys action are met by roadblocks from Strang and his parents.
Strang makes his early appearance by only singing jingles from commercials as a way to cope and avoid having to discuss anything to his disliking. His mother is very protective and religious, while his father is a socialist and atheist who replaces a religious picture in Alan's bedroom with a picture of a horse. Before long in his room, Alan begins to worship the horse, replacing him for the deity his father forbad him to call upon. Treating the bothered teen causes the doctor to doubt his own sense of purpose and ability to cure the young man.
Diane Bolan directs The Barn Players production, which runs through August 16. Laura Burkhart designed the simple yet forceful set, Sean Bailey the sound, Philip Leonard light design, and Holly Daniel the costumes. Bolan said she joined Meghann Deveroux the horse choreographer at a local stable where they observed horses performing at different gaits. This dedication to research paid off, as the actors wearing wire horse heads were so believable that it was easy to forget they were a person and to accept them as a horse. Richard J. Burt, Nataleigh Brull, Julie Miller, and Andy Venneman appear as the horses. Sean Leistico designed and built the horse heads for the Johnson County Community College Department of Music and Theatre.
Paul Orwick makes a fabulous Barn Players debut as Dr. Martin Dysart, the child psychiatrist charged with helping the troubled youth. His dynamic performance was so believable that you could feel his frustration at not being able to help the boy.
J. Will Fritz makes his debut at the Barn Players as the troubled youth, Alan Strang. His powerful performance is without doubt one of the best that I have seen in Kansas City Theater. Simultaneously he draws sympathy, laughter, and a hint of fear from the audience. Vida Bikales, President of The Barn Players, described his performance perfectly as both vulnerable and demonic at the same time.
The supporting cast Sean Leistico as the father, Michelle Cotton as the mother, Dee Dee Diemer as the magistrate, Walter Winch as the stable owner, and Alisa Lynn as Jill Mason are superb escalating this production to the top of the charts for local theater. The R rated show contains tastefully performed sexual situations and nudity.
Equus continues at The Barn Players in Mission, Kansas through August 16. It is highly recommended that patrons see the production, even if the story is not at the top their list, because of the high quality of the show. Purchase tickets at The Barn Players website or call 913-432-9100 for additional information. Photo courtesy of The Barn Players.