Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker
Appropriately black curtains shroud a raised stage of bare boards lit from below and, sometimes, from a boarded semi-circle of lights above. Thunderous sounds, neighing, whinnying come through arches in the blackness from brown horses (men-in-body-suits) with abstract gold-metal heads. In one of the onstage white chairs psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Paul Whitworth, a cross between 60ish Anthony Hopkins in mien and Richard Burton vocally, with a jutting-out salt-and-pepper beard all his own) flashes back to his agreeing to take on the case of Alan Strang. Judge Hesther Salomon (Randy Danson, showing concern as well as frustration) persuaded Dysart he was "the boy's last chance." He'd blinded six horses, and no one could "handle" him. With Dysart tired of his professional life helping maladjusted kids as well as of his devoid-of-passion personal life, he began more interested in the why of the blinding than whodunit. To find out, he employed what were current psychiatric methods of interviews and encounters.
He recalls Alan (compelling Juan Javier Cardenas, maintaining adolescent vulnerability though obviously beyond his teens), hands dug into sweatshirt pockets, defiantly "answering" questions by singing commercials from TV, that his father, a printer (rightly severe Douglas Jones), devalued and later forbade watching. In Alan's religiously divided, devisive home, joyless Dora Strang (Devora Millman, appropriately gray in dress and demeanor) read to him from the Bible and myths. After taking away a "too gory" Crucifixion picture she'd put over Alan's bed, his atheist father Frank substituted a portrait of a horse, similar to one Alan memorably rode once at a beach. He likened him, staring full front, to the godlike storied Equus. Later, when Alan got a weekend job at a stable, its owner (convincing James Clarke) learned he was riding horses secretly at midnight. He was especially close—both physically and emotionally to Nugget (Yasin Sheikh, well controlled). Via hypnosis, Dysart tuned into a reenactment of Alan's most thrilling ride (now a sexually charged first act finale).
When Alan finally agreed to drugs to enable him to tell of the stable happenings, Dysart, in a questionable relationship toward him that made him loath to "take away his worship," gave only a placebo. That was enough. He told how he went one evening with Jill, a free spirit unassumingly played by Jessi Blue Gormezano, to a skin flick. After he and his father met and tried to gloss over being there, Alan and Jill went to the stable. Agreeing to sex as natural, Alan followed Jill stripping. (Director Michael Donald Edwards has been careful to present the youths as innocents, also to have Jimmy Hoskins help choreograph tastefully the famed nudity that might otherwise shock not only Sarasota audiences.) But when Alan proved impotent, even Jill's attempt to persuade him that could be natural too did not convince. He blamed the horses for seeing him, shaming him.
Though finally Dysart was able to take away Alan's pain, he also rues destroying his passion. He envies the boy's real sexual and emotional experience as opposed to his own bland existence. May Equus may now affect the doctor? How?
All this makes for wonderfully melodramatic theatre that Antonin Artaud would have loved. Is it being revived because it is a modern classic? Or is it an opportunity to revisit the 1970s with its forays into the crises of youth and middle age, blame-the-parents tendencies, unaccustomed presentations of homoeroticism and on-stage violence, the glorification of feeling? The most fascinated people I saw in Asolo's audience were aging and retired boomers, the old/new agers who learned from theatre like this to respond well to modernized ritual. (I note that Hair returned to a local community theatre the night before Equus opened.) Subdued lighting and thundering sound designers Lap-Chi Chu and Robby McLean fully satisfy. Clint Ramos created the effective ancient-altar-like set and, for the horses (Shane Austin, Matt Brown, Marcus Denard Johnson, Troy Lewis, Jennifer Logue), costumes.