In the early 1970s, master wordsmith and playwright Peter Shaffer read a small news story, with little details, about a boy who had blinded six horses at a stable in Sussex, England. The writer’s imagination went into full gear. He created a script which included a family background for the obsessed young man, an image of a troubled but successful psychiatrist, and wove them into a compelling play which he named “Equus.”
The story centers on Alan Strong (Antonio DeJesus), a teenager, living in a small town in England and Martin Dysart (Russell B. Kunz), the psychiatrist who treats him after Heather Saloman (Amiee Collier), a compassionate magistrate, pleads with Dysart to take Alan as a patient.
From the opening scene, in which Alan tenderly hugs Nugget, a horse, to the emotional closing, Shaffer’s two-and-a-half-hour script grabs and holds the viewer’s attention.
With Dysart as the narrator, we meet Frank (Andrew Narten), Alan’s atheistic, hypercritical father, and Dora (Claudia Esposito), his enabling school teacher mother. We learn how Jill Mason (Sarah Blubaugh), a young woman introduces him to stable owner Harry Dalton (Chris Bizub) who hires the boy. We observe as Jill attempts to introduce the virgin boy to sex. We observe Alan connect to the stable’s horses (Daryl Kelley, Jason Falkofsky, Zac Hudak, Evan Martin, Anthony Salatino and David Turner), who Alan loves, yet is the subject of his maiming.
We observe Alan change from a boy who chants advertising jingles in order to protect himself from human contact, to revealing a little of his past, to finally coming to an understanding of why he acted as he did, with the possibility of his becoming normal. “Normal.” Whatever that means.
Alan is not the only one with high angst. Dysart is in a loveless, sexless marriage, is living an unfulfilled existence, and finds himself having severe nightmares about being a destructive chief priest in Homeric Greece.
The tale is told in retrospect. Dysart, as the narrator, takes the audience to various times and places as fits the tale, rather than making the story sequential.
“Equus” is a tale of passion, religion, sexuality, pain, blame, and freedom. Alan, a boy in pain, is obsessed with horses from first coming in contact with one on a beach when he was young. He creates Equus into a Christ-like figure. Even his first attempt at sex takes place in his “church,” the horse stable, where he is unable to perform when the horses whinny, sending a message of his wrong doing. Dysart, as does the audience, tries to figure out if Alan’s problems, including his need for freedom, are his own doing or those created by his parents, and whether he is freeing the horses from their confinement and pain by blinding them.
“Equus” is a difficult play to stage. For the script to work requires two superb actors, a strong supporting cast, creative staging, a meaningful vision for the horses, subtle and appropriate English accents, and a set that enhances the action.
Fortunately, director Patrick Ciamacco has found the cast and has the originality gene to make the near impossible possible.
At an open tryout, Ciamacco found boyish looking twenty-year old Antonio DeJesus. DeJesus lives up to the English interpretation of his last name, which is “of God,” as Alan. DeJesus gives what has to be one of the most enveloping, highly-textured performances by a male the local theater season. Kudos! Bravo!
Russell B. Kunz creates a believable, well-conceived, tortured Martin Dysart. He is a great match for DeJesus.
Aimee Collier, Andrew Narten, Claudia Esposito, Chris Bizub and Sarah Blubaugh are all prime in their roles.
Noah Hrebek and Patrick Ciamacco’s horse fabrications, and Ciamacco’s set design, which takes us into a barn, complete with Alan’s pit of Hell, enhances the production.
Be aware that the production includes full frontal male and female nudity.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: “Equus” is not only one of Blank Canvas’s finest productions, but one of the best stagings of the script I’ve seen. This is required attendance for anyone interested in experiences of marrying a well-written script with a superb staging. If for no other reason, go to the theater to experience the marvel of Antonio DeJesus.
Blank Canvas’s “Equus” runs through August 26, 2017, in its near west side theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland. Get directions to the theatre on the website. Once you arrive at the site, go around the first building to find the entrance and then follow the signs to the second floor acting space. For tickets and directions go to www.blankcanvastheatre.com
Next up at BC is their annual fund-raiser on September 1 and 2. “Chess,” is a concert version of the tale of a politically driven, Cold War-era chess tournament between two men—an American grandmaster and a Soviet grandmaster—and their fight over a woman who manages one and falls in love with the other. It has music by Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus of Abba, and lyrics by Tim Rice.
October 6-28: The stage version of the cult-rock movie “The Rocky Horror Show.”