Saturday, February 03, 2007
‘EQUUS’ at BECK is a brilliant and compelling MUST see!
Every once in a while a theatre-goer has an experience which almost defies words.
After the final curtain of Beck Center’s production of Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award winning drama ‘EQUUS’ I sat stunned. I had just seen what I consider to be the best over-all local production in my viewing experience. I don’t say that lightly. Readers of my reviews know that I am guarded in making sweeping generalizations. In this case I honestly and whole heartedly believe that I saw total brilliance at the show’s opening night performance.
Words flood my mind. Words like “brilliant,” “splendid,” and “captivating.” Later, I spent a fitful night, tossing and turning as I attempted to sleep, but, instead, lived and relived the theatrical experience.
‘EQUUS’ concerns Alan Strang who appears to be an introverted, obedient, not overly bright 17-year old with a passion for horses. One night he blinds six horses with a hoof pick. What drove him to do it? He is placed under psychiatric surveillance. He is an unresponsive patient who is woken each night by terrible nightmares, and his yelling “eck” over and over. Psychiatrist Martin Dysart eventually is able to help his patient grasp the answer to the psychological puzzle. In the process, Dysart finds out as much about himself as he does about his client. Dysart reflects: "That boy has known a passion more ferocious than I have felt in any second of my life. That boy stands in the dark for an hour, sucking the sweat off his god's hairy cheek!"
Shaffer based the play on a true English crime. From sketchy details, Shaffer constructed a fictional account of what might have caused the incident. Many theatre critics consider ‘EQUUS’ to be one of the most significant English language plays of the last half of the 20th century.
William Roudebush’s reimagination of the script brings forth meanings I never knew the play contained. I saw the original Broadway production in 1975. I find this production to be superior.
From the moment one enters the theatre to see six buffed males wearing only skin colored dance belts going through stretching exercises and watch as they morph into horses who paw the ground, flex their powerful flanks, whinny and gallop, until the startling conclusion, the viewer knows this is a special experience. Roudebush, aided by Martin Cespedes’ amazing choreography, has created a focused and involving experience that is not all show, but one that develops the author’s intent and purpose.
Roudebush doesn’t use gimmicks, such as having the horses created by the use of wire head sets, as was the case on Broadway. He and Cespedes transform men into horses. He doesn’t flaunt the full-frontal nudity, which is drawing ticket buyers to see Daniel Radcliff (of Harry Potter fame) in the forthcoming revival of the play in London. The nudity is so natural, so well ensconced into the essence of the play, that it is neither lewd nor intended to whet the prurient appetite to see an actor and actress perform unclothed.
Matthew Wright who portrays Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist, rivals Anthony Perkins’ performance in the original Broadway production. Wright clearly creates a human with unique abilities to work with those with mental illnesses, but who has personal frailties. The psychiatrist’s strengths and vulnerabilities are obvious in this intelligent character study.
Dan Folino’s Alan Strang, has a vulnerability and introspection that I think exceeds Tom Huce, who played opposite Perkins. Folino, known to local audiences mainly as a marvelous singer (e.g., ‘BEAUTY AND THE BEAST’) creates a tortured soul who is totally believable in his angst. Folino knows just when and how to not only go inside his soul but collapse in a primal scream. Folino’s performance is dazzling.
The rest of the cast is absolutely on target. Rose Leininger, Alison Garrigan, Geoffrey Darling, Lenne Snively, Jeffrey Glover and Bernadette Celemens each develop clear and consistent characters.
As the horses, Franklyn Singley, Jose Ayala III, Bill DePetro, E. Ray Goodwin, Jr., Ryan Lahetta and Vincent Martinez are mesmerizing. We never see men, we see horses. WOW!!
Don McBride reformatted Beck’s stage from a proscenium, having part of the audience sit on the stage, facing the rest of the audience, who populate the regular auditorium seating, allowing the spectators to become an intimate part of the action. This reformatting means that, at times, members of the cast are facing away from some audience members. Though there is a minor loss of sound, it does not cause the missing of many lines and is more than compensated for by the overall experience.
Light designer Trad A. Burns creates effects which greatly enhance the entire experience. The casting of shadows, the key-color lighting of certain parts of the stage, and the making for clear transitions, was a work of genius. Richard B. Ingraham’s sound design was also well conceived.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘EQUUS’ is not a go-see, it is MUST-see. If you only go to one theatrical production this year, make it ‘EQUUS.’ It is brilliant, amazing, compelling and awesome!!!