I really wasn’t familiar with the plot of Equus before going to see it last Thursday at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theatre. I knew it had something to do with horses that would somehow call for Daniel Radcliffe to be naked on stage. And despite drawing some conclusions from that, I assumed the plot was a little more involved. I was correct, and although I entered the theatre with some hesitant curiosity, it proved to be a highly enjoyable show.
The stage was set in the round with half of the audience in front of décor resembling a barn and the other half in front of several long sets of office window blinds. I noted this immediately and wondered about the purpose of the set dressing, but it all became clear within the first scene of the show. Equus is almost entirely set inside a psychiatrist’s office at a mental hospital. Any scenes involving the farm or the barn where the horses live is imagined in Alan Strang’s (Evan W. Saunders) mind as he struggles with telling his story to Dr. Martin Dysart (John E. Lane, Jr.). Because of this, the small set was versatile and served the story well.
Strang’s odd story of mental torture and literal worship of horses was a hard one to hear, but it was compelling. Saunders was completely remarkable in the role, having to go from closed off and brooding to passionate or enraged within moments. This process was repeated throughout the play, and Saunders’ commitment to the physical aspects was captivating to watch. To come out of a story about a boy being treated because of his violence to horses and saying you feel sorry for him and commiserate with his point of view can only mean that the actor really worked to win you over.
Likewise, Lane’s Dr. Dysart was the character the audience could relate to and experience their emotions through. This doctor spent the length of the show listening to the complex story as it unfolded and responding with much more sympathy than ever expected. It was because of this character that the boy seemed so human, and Lane’s care to interact with him as such made it that more intriguing to watch. He handed the boy with care, but not distantly. By the end of the show, he was even torn between doing what was socially right versus what he believed might be right on a human level. Dysart speaks the most out of all the characters, but I was never bored or lost in any of his monologues. There were several times where Lane slipped out of his English accent, which didn’t seem to happen with the rest of the cast. But, it was opening night and with the number of lines he had, it was excusable and didn’t deter from the play.
It was a relatively small cast, and there were never more than three or four people on stage, if you don’t count the horses. The horses, by the way, were fascinating all on their own. Six actors played horses, and two of those actors had other small parts in the show. Each horse was wearing all brown or black, their hands held behind their backs. Then they had a wire framed horse head on like a hat and thick wire “hooves” attached to their feet, which made the sound of horses walking anytime they were on stage. Despite me constantly being worried someone was going to fall over (because I know I would have), it was hard to take my eyes off them anytime they were on stage. The first act ended with a breathtaking scene in which Strang recounts riding his favorite horse while Dysart stands by listening in awe, as if he can actually see the scene that is playing in Strang’s mind and in front of the audience.
Director Justin Sines clearly worked hard at keeping this show tight and fluid. Together, the cast was strong, without any awkward moments or interactions. The costumes were simple, aside from the horses, of course. And the lighting was appropriately dramatic, lighting different sections of the stage to indicate various scenes without set changes. This is an emotional and captivating show, and despite there being no nudity in this version, I highly recommend getting out to see it! The Red Masquers should be proud of this one.
Equus runs at Duquesne University’s Genesius Theatre through April 29. For tickets and more information click here.
Categories: Archived Reviews