BWW Review: EQUUS Chills as Constellation Theatre

BWW Review: EQUUS Chills as Constellation Theatre

As a society, we often view extreme acts of "passion," whether it be motivated by anger, lust, or sadness, as negative, resulting in pain, or as something to be "fixed." Instead, we strive for normalcy and balance, obliterating any despair and following our established routine of life. What we often don't realize is that "normal" can lead to an emptiness in connection, desire, and motivation that those who feel exceptional passion do not suffer. Is it possible for the "normal" to make room for the extreme in their own lives?

This is just one of the topics that Constellation Theatre's current production, EQUUS, asks audiences to ponder. Directed by Amber McGinnis Jackson and written by Peter Shaffer, this Tony-Award winning play is a unique psychological journey that will make you question what you think you know about mental illness, normalcy, and how each of us has gotten to where we are today. Constellation's EQUUS is a chilling production, full of raw emotion, mystery, and desire.

EQUUS dives into the psyche of a young and troubled teenager, Alan Strang. Alan's dangerous obsession with horses leads him to commit an unspeakable act of violence. Psychiatrist Martin Dysart investigates to uncover the motivation behind Alan's shocking brutality and finds himself drawn in by the devotion and desire that fuel his young patient. Though EQUUS is a dark production, the play also includes charming moments that provide some light humor.

While the entire show is outstanding, one of the most intriguing elements is the immersive set. With a simple design, the set elicits the feel of a barn through color and the wooden floor and crossbeams. The stage is set in the center of the theatre's house, which allows an intimacy between the cast and audience. A.J. Guban's crafty stage design is also combined with lighting that plays a strong role in creating the uneasy and spiritual moments of the story.

Palmer Hefferan's sound design is concise and subtle, hitting all the right chords at key moments as it blends with the action while also carrying the story forward. The costume designs, created by Erik Teague, also have a subtly in detail that make all of the characters feel "just right." Teague's skills are particularly impressive with the horse costumes. Though the horse ensemble is clearly led by people wearing horse heads, the detail in color, texture, and shoe (or "hoof") helps capture the majesty of the horses and allows the humans to fade into the background. Additionally, the ensemble's acting has fluid horse movement, creating a realistic "gang" of larger-than-life creatures. Ryan Tumulty, who plays Nugget (a horse) along with the horseman, truly leads the pack with his powerful stage presence.

While all the cast members do an excellent job portraying their characters in a realistic way, there are a few additional standout performances. Emily Kester plays a flirtatious Jill Mason, and Laureen E. Smith (Dora Strang) and Michael Tolaydo (Frank Strang) encapsulate the extremes of Alan's parents. Ross Destiche creates a haunting Alan Strang as he captures his deep emotional turmoil. Even more, Destiche also shines in a range of emotional opportunities, from moments of childhood innocence and glee, to spirituality, to adolescent awkwardness. At the most pivotal moments in the play, Destiche exceeds the highest of expectations with raw energy that chills.

Michael Kramer's Martin Dysart (the psychiatrist) is sensitive, skillful, and sympathetic. Kramer builds a bond with the audience alongside his own revelations as he goes deeper and deeper into Alan's psyche. The chemistry between Kramer and Destiche is incredibly strong and is a key element to the success of the production. Additionally, Kramer and Destiche are on stage for virtually the entire show and consistently prove that they can hold their own.

Constellation Theatre's EQUUS is an engrossing production that truly showcases the power of theatrical storytelling. With swift direction, a well-rounded and unique script, stellar performances, and top-notch design, EQUUS will make for a most unusual and thought-provoking evening and is one show not to miss this winter season.

EQUUS plays at Constellation Theatre Company (Source Theatre playhouse - 1835 14th St. NW) until February 14.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes, plus one intermission.

Contains full nudity. Recommended for ages 16+.

Tickets can be purchased at www.ConstellationTheatre.org or by calling 202-204-7741.

Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

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