Saturday, February 24, 2007

Red Light Winter

Disturbing, unnerving ‘RED LIGHT WINTER’ at Bang and Clatter

Akron’s off-off Broadway theatre, THE BANG AND THE CLATTER, is presenting Adam Rapp’s controversial play, ‘RED LIGHT WINTER.’ This show is not for the feint of heart. It’s not for those who can’t tolerate full-frontal nudity, gross language, depiction of graphic sex, or don’t like to have their senses assaulted.

To be honest, I don't like the script, but I can't and won't deny that the raw smells, tastes and visions got into my senses and won’t get out. I don’t like the people. I don’t like what they represent. I don’t like that they can’t and or won’t save themselves from their destructive paths. Yet, I can’t get them out of my mind.

The name Adam Rapp may sound familiar, even if you aren’t a theatre person. A novelist, film maker and playwright, his book ‘THE BUFFALO TREE’ was brought to national attention when it was censored by the Muhlenberg School Board in Reading, Pennsylvania for its language and subject matter.

Rapp uses graphic language, sexual content and themes that are repulsive to some. Personally, I’m not shocked or turned off by his language or subject matter. But I am turned off by his style. I just think he writes speeches which don’t sound like they would be spoken by a normal person, writes characters that are overdrawn, and puts shock before substance. I find that he throws in gimmicks to move along the plot that often make no sense.

‘RED LIGHT WINTER’ begins in a small bedroom in a hostel in Amsterdam, where nerdy, unsuccessful playwright Matt attempts to kill himself. Right after his half hearted attempt fails, his traveling mate Davis turns up. The two are friends from college and are vacationing together in Europe. Davis has a present for Matt—a prostitute named Christina.

Christina appears to be French but, as Matt deduces, is actually an American. She undresses Matt, takes him to bed, then she exits, leaving behind a tape recorder and the fancy red dress she changed into just before bedding the somewhat shy and inexperienced young man.

Act Two takes place in New York, in Matt's apartment. If any more of the plot is revealed the effect of the evening will be ruined, so I’m stopping here with just the comment that the play has no curtain call and that is one of the dramatic highlights of the evening.

Okay, here are my issues with Rapp and his script. Yes, opposites may attract and people turn to those who are unlike themselves in order to get some thrills. But, that obsessive-compulsive insecure Matt would be friends with Davis, who has no redeeming qualities, is questionable. As written, Davis wouldn’t be an actual friend to anyone, least of all Matt, whose girl friend Davis stole some years back. As for Christina, she's something of an enigma throughout. At first I thought that it was the fault of Laurel Johnson, who plays the role. She has a bad French accent, is a weak singer, and her lines often lack unity of thought. Nope, it’s not Laurel’s fault. The character is poorly and manipulatively drawn by Rapp. Her language and lines don’t ring true. Questions abound: Why the false French accent? Why does she leave her dress and the tape recorder behind? Of all the people in the world, why does she seek out a scumbag like Davis when she comes to New York? The answer is that these are all plot development devices.

What is surprising is that ‘RED LIGHT WINTER’ was one of the finalist for last year’s Pulitzer Prize. With the quality of this script, no wonder no award was given.

As they are apt to do, the Bang and Clatter gives the play a good production. In fact, the production, outclasses the material, though trimming the first act (one hour and thirty minutes was way too long) and picking up the pace in the second act, would have helped.

Doug Kusak is generally on target as Matt. He probably has the clearest of the characters to interpret, even with the question of his loyalty to Davis. I found his interpretation of the closing scene a little unclear, but otherwise, it was a good acting exercise.

Mark Mayo knows no boundaries as Davis. He is way, way over-the-top. It can only be assumed that Director Sean McConaha really, really wanted us to hate Davis. He succeeded. I wonder what would have happened if Mayo had pulled back the character a little. If he had not screamed almost every line, over-acted ever gross action and syllable that spewed forth from his mouth.

The second act confrontation scene between Davis and Christina was so finely tuned it was pure emotional agony. It was almost unwatchable because of the uncompromising reality of the performers.

Gorgeous Laurel Johnson does what she can with the poorly written role of Christina/Christine/ Annie. Her physical change between the first and second acts is amazing. She perfectly transforms into a Keene painting of a hollow-eyed child looking at finality.

Capsule judgement: ‘RED LIGHT WINTER’ has to be one of the, if not the most disturbing productions I’ve ever seen. I’m writing this 24 hours after having seen the show and I’m still in a state of shock!

Death of a Salesman (Actors' Summit)

ACTORS’ SUMMIT does a good job of selling a Miller classic

Cleveland has become an Arthur Miller kind of town! Running concurrently are the master playwright’s THE PRICE (Ensemble Theatre) and THE DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Actors’ Summit). And, to the pleasure of local theatre-goers, both productions are excellent!

Arthur Miller, who died in 2005 at the age of 89, is considered to be one of America’s greatest modern playwrights. He authored many highly regarded works including ‘THE CRUCIBLE,’ ‘A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE’ and ‘ALL MY SONS.’

Many consider his greatest work to be ‘DEATH OF A SALESMAN,’ which premiered on Broadway on February 10, 1949, starring Lee J. Cobb. The play won a Tony Award, a New York Drama Critics' Award and a Pulitzer Prize. It was the first play ever to win all three of those awards.

Miller, who continued in his writing to probe, “Is this the best way to live,” features that theme in Salesman, which by most counts is the most studied American play in high schools and colleges.

The plot centers on Willy Loman, a salesman who has spent his whole life “way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine,” proud of his ability to sell anything to anyone and to provide for his family. In reality, this is a dream of the reality...he is not successful, nor well liked, nor providing for his family. As the play unfolds, he loses his job, the respect of his sons, and finally, his hope. He finds himself needing to face reality, but unable to do so.

Miller uses flashbacks to create a stream of conscious to illustrate Willy’s lack of reality. He is a modern day tragic hero, whose flaws lead to his destruction. He dies, as he has lived, by creating a false illusion. Is this the best way to live?

The play takes place in a small house in Brooklyn. Originally in the country, the home in the play is now surrounded by high-rise buildings. The house really exists. The Miller family lived there. Ironically, it is around the corner from my aunt and uncle’s apartment and, when I visited them, I would walk over to see the residence, and realized that it, much like Willy, was overwhelmed and lost by the reality of the world which surrounds it.

Actors’ Summit’s production, under the direction of Alex Cikra is quite good. Though a little slow in places, the play’s intent is clear.

A. Neil Thackaberry, coming off an amazing performance in Actors’ Summit’s ‘QED,’ gives Willy the right physical and emotional dimensions. Here is a stoop-shouldered hunk of a man who walks as if defeated, weighted down by not only his salesman’s valises, but by his self-created delusions. Interestingly, Thackaberry’s occasional stumbling over lines adds to the chaos in the character’s mind.

Paula Duesing does well as Linda, Willy’s brow-beaten enabler wife. One of her two major speeches is outstanding. Known as the “respect must be paid” soliloquy, in which she summarizes Willy as an undistinguished man whose name will never appear in a newspaper, Duesing is emotionally right on target. Unfortunately, the final speech, the requiem, when Linda states that she is unable to cry and questions why, now that “We’re free and clear” Willy has killed himself, lacks the emotional gut-shaking reality that is needed to close the curtain on Willy’s delusions.

This production, however, belongs to Nick Koesters as Biff, the only Loman capable of finally realizing that he is not the superstar that Willy has dreamt up. Koesters is outstanding. In the scene in which he finds out the truth about his philandering father, his body sags, his eyes well, his lips tremble, the life goes out of his eyes as his world crashes down. Bravo!

John Galbraith is fine as the clueless Hap, the other son, who is well on his way to becoming another Willy.

Cikra’s decision to multi-cast Marc Moritz as five different people is questionable. Though Moritz is excellent, several scenes lose their focus because Moritz is forced to literally play two people at once.

The set does more to distract than enhance the production. Not using see-through walls, which Miller meticulously describes in the play’s notes, distracts from our ability to separate Willy’s realities from his illusions.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘DEATH OF A SALESMAN’ is a brilliant play. Actors’ Summit generally does a fine job of showcasing this important work.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Natural Selections--Verb Ballets

--disappointing VERB BALLETS

Verb Ballets is one of the premiere dance companies in the Northeastern Ohio area. It was disappointing therefore, to watch a flow of patron bodies out of the Natural History Museum at intermission of the company’s recent ‘NATURAL SELECTIONS’ program. It was off-putting to hear the polite but generally unenthusiastic applause as the program finished. It was disappointing to hear comments following the concert such as, “That was a little raw” and “I thought this was a first class company.” It is more disappointing that after so many positive, usually rave reviews of Verb, that I have to write this column and question the program design of Artistic Director Hernando Cortez.

Cortez decided that his dancers needed to spread their wings and show their choreographic skills. This was an admirable idea. It was not wise, however, in my opinion, to do it by having an entire evening devoted to that mission. Especially an evening in which people paid for the “real” Verb Ballets. It might have been fine for a free performance, like the company does during the summer, but not in the middle of the regular season. Even one or two pieces sandwiched in might have worked, but a solid diet of “world premieres” by unknown and untested choreographers, was a questionable decision.

The final result was more like a college senior dance recital than an evening with a professional company. The ballets, in general, went from bland to promising, the dancing from undisciplined to nicely done, but not up to the level of the Verb Ballets that has received critical raves.

The evening opened with ‘PLEASE,’ choreographed by Catherine Meredith. Though generally well-danced by Erin Conway, Brian Murphy, Catherine Meredith and Mark Tomasic, the dramatic-toned piece failed to capture attention. It was pleasant but not compelling. Most strange was the ending. Without any climax, the dancing just ended. What was the conclusion? Where was the climax message of romantic love and romantic loss billboarded in the program notes?

Marcela Alvarez’s ‘VAGARIES,’ was uncreative. There was no true separation between the so-called dreams and nightmares, and no clarity of message. What was the piece supposed to say? In addition, the dancers were undisciplined and coordination of corps movements was sloppy. This was the low-point of the evening.

In ‘FOREVER IN MY MIND,’ Brian Murphy’s piece, the movements and the music blended beautifully . The dancers were quite disciplined. The story, which was billed as a poetic narrative, however, was not clear. Yes, the meaning of poetry is in the mind of the beholder, but a message must be there or the piece fails to have a total impact. It was nice to watch, but left out the important element of clarity of intent.

Of Erin Conway’s ‘FLUCTUATING HEMLINES’ the choreographer states that what we are watching is “pure show-stopping dance.” I only wish that had been the case. The piece failed to let loose. Often, the dancers were not coordinated. The promised athleticism was not present. The highlight segment was the duet between Anna Roberts and Mark Tomasic.

The most ambitious segment of the evening was Mark Tomasic’s ‘LUIS.’ Based on a story by Richard Selzer, a Brazilian doctor turned author, it is the dual tale of Luis and Selzer (named Cherubini in the selection).

Luis, a street urchin is poisoned when the glowing disk he thinks is a piece of a fallen star that will give him luck, turns out to be a radioactive part from a discarded medical instrument from Selzer’s hospital. Selzer, who led a life which he termed as, “a blind love for science, for technology, which produced a passionless barbarity,” after meeting and attempting to treat the dying Luis turns toward a passion for helping others.

With a script adaption by celebrated Cleveland playwright Eric Coble, Tomasic choreographed a well danced, but not completely successful tale. A lot of floor groveling, standing still, and dialogue failed to develop the needed pathos.

Jason Ignacio acceptably danced the role of Luis, but even though he wore a microphone, he was almost impossible to hear and his words were often unintelligible. Tomasic and the rest of the cast had the speaking volume, but except for Tomasic, the acting levels were poor. Erin Conway, for example, an excellent dancer, spoke flat lines. Someone needed to work with the cast on creating characters and speaking lines that had meaning.

Dr. Cherubini’s awakening, didn’t ring true. All we saw was him removing his rubber doctor gloves, stepping over and wandering through the people in the dump, not helping, raising, curing, or displaying compassion for them.

The piece has potential. Tomasic needs to expand the concept to create a more involving and evolving story through dance. It might be wise to step away from dancing the role of Dr. Cherubini and spend his entire time as the choreographer. However, considering the few males in Verb’s company, this might be impossible. (Side-note: the company must do something about its paucity of male dancers.)

To add to the evening’s problems was Raymond Kent’s lighting, which mainly consisted of dark stages with some accenting lighting. Missing was the company’s usual lighting designer Trad Burns ‘ creative and mood setting designs.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Going to a Verb Ballets’ presentation has been consistently a delightful experience. Unfortunately, this was not true with their latest offering, ‘NATURAL SELECTIONS.’

Review of the Reviewer's Reviews (Jeffrey Grover)


Thanks for your continued good work bringing attention to important Cleveland performances, Roy.

All best,

Jeffrey Grover

Review of the Reviewer's Reviews (Alan Dawson)

I really enjoy your reviews. Keep up the good work.

Alan Dawson of Canton, OH

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chita Rivera, A Dancer's Life

Chita Rivera lights up stage at the Palace

On September 26, 1957, ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ opened at the Winter Garden Theater in New York. I saw the show on September 27. I went into the theatre not having read the rave reviews in the paper that AM. I was completely blown away. The Arthur Laurents, (book) Leonard Bernstein (music), Stephen Sondheim (lyrics) conceived show was everything a Broadway musical should be. It told a modern version of ‘ROMEO AND JULIET,’ featuring the conflict between Puerto Ricans and “white” Americans. The music and lyrics were exciting. The cast superb. The person who totally enthralled me was Chita Rivera, playing the fiery and lusty Anita.

The dancer, singer, actress is presently telling her life story in ‘CHITA RIVERA, THE DANCER’S LIFE’ at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square. And it is a story worth telling.

Some interesting facts roll out in the production. Her first professional stage appearance was in Akron as a dancer in ‘CALL ME MADAM.’ Her first starring role was in ‘BYE BYE BIRDIE.’ She has twice appeared in major shows with Liza Minnelli (‘CHICAGO’ and ‘THE RINK). She has worked with the greatest choreographers in modern theatre including Jack Cole, Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Michael Kidd.

The most enticing part of ‘CHITA RIVERA, THE DANCER’S LIFE” is the segment in which she talks about the choreographers and behind her, in silouhette, a line of dancers emulate each of the dance styles of these men.

Rivera, who starred on Broadway in such shows as ‘THE RINK’, ‘SWEET CHARITY’ and ‘CHICAGO,’ still has “it!” She is compelling on stage.

The well-preserved 74-year old can still flash the magical smile, move those sensual hips and kick moderately high though she needs some sit-down breaks. What is most interesting is that by all rules of medicine she should not even be on that stage.

In 1986 she was hit by a car. Her leg was shattered, requiring 16 screws to repair the damage. She was told she might not ever walk again. Her guts and determination transformed themselves into a will power that has allowed her not only to walk, but to dance for almost an hour-and-a-half in her present show.

Capsule judgment: If you love musical theatre, if you want to see the consummate musical theatre performer in what is maybe her final appearance in the spotlight, you’ll love ‘CHITA RIVERA, THE DANCER’S LIFE.’

The Price (Ensemble Theatre)

‘THE PRICE’ is right at Ensemble!

Arthur Miller, author of ‘THE PRICE’ now on stage at Ensemble Theatre, is one of the greatest of American playwrights. In his scripts, he asks, “Is this the best way to live?” He is a moralist, who holds humanity up to the highest standards. This philosophy is woven into such classics as ‘DEATH OF A SALESMAN,’ ‘ALL MY SONS,’ ‘THE CRUCIBLE,’ and ‘THE PRICE.’

‘THE PRICE’ takes place in the 1960’s in a cramped top floor of a Manhattan brownstone that is going to be demolished. The attic holds the used furniture of a once wealthy family. Victor, a middle–aged policeman near retirement, awaits the arrival of an agent to give him a price for the attic’s contents. The room is filled with memories. Memories of the 1929 Wall Street crash when the family’s money disappeared, of spending most of his youth caring for a father who gave his love to Victor’s oldest brother who had basically abandoned the man in his time of need. Into this setting comes Solomon, a 89-year old semi–retired dealer. He offers Victor a price which is accepted just as Vic’s brother returns, supposedly not to interfere, but to attempt to heal a sixteen-year rift.

Questions abound. Queries about power, the purpose of life, ethical responsibility, how decisions are made, and what people do to physically and emotionally survive. Paramount is the question, “What price do we pay for the decisions we make?”.

Ensemble’s production, under the adept direction of the crowned queen of local theatre, Dorothy Silver, is superb. The message is clearly revealed. The pacing is right. The performances on target. This is theatre at its finest, molded by a directing magician.

Charles Kartali as Victor, the brother who, in his thinking, made the “ethical” decision to give up his personal desires in order to be the “good” son, walks a fine line between being a martyr and a hero with the ability of a high-wire professional. He never crosses into the melodramatic, though that would have been very easy to do. His angst, his moral indignation, his certainty over his lack of certainty, is readily apparent. This is a fine, fine performance.

Reuben Silver, the elder statesman of Cleveland theatre, creates a fascinating character as Solomon, the used furniture dealer who must decide what price he must pay to continue to live his life in a productive manner. He imbues the character with mirth, emotional torture and reality. We feel sorry for him, while we admire his ability to go forward. Wow!

Maryann Elder, who portrays Victor’s frustrated wife, a woman torn between her desire for the better life she wants and loyalty to her husband, creates a clear characterization.

Joel Hammer as Walter, Victor’s brother, is believable and real. Do we accept his tale of why he abandoned the family? Do we accept that he is a “changed man” due to an awaking that came as a result of nervous breakdown? Again, the performance walks a fine line between drama and melodrama, with success.

Ron Newell’s set is amazing. There is more junk on stage then one could imagine. Where oh where did he unearth all the furniture and kitsch that totally populates the space?

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Kudos to director Dorothy Silver and her amazing cast for a highlight production. This is MUST SEE theatre.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cuttin' Up (Cleveland Play House)

Play House’s ‘CUTTIN’ UP’ a valiant try, but...

Every once in a while a play has good intentions, but misses the mark. This is the case with ‘CUTTIN’ UP,’ now on stage at the Cleveland Play House

In his book Cuttin' Up: Wit and Wisdom from Black Barbershops, Craig Marberry, who conducted interviews in black barber shops across the country, delves into the world of black men and their relationships. In his research he found that the barber shop is, to many African American males, the place to talk, “solve the world’s problems,” and get a unique haircut which is a significant part of their identity. It is for men what the church is for many Black women.

Charles Randolph-Wright’s script, which is based on Marberry’s book, is set in a barber shop in Cleveland. Unfortunately, rather than having a central theme which follows a logical course, the script jumps around, often not completing one story before it segues into another. The material would have been much better as a series of vignettes that took 60 minutes, rather than an almost two-and-one-half hour production. The intermission

Director Craig Marberry doesn’t help the matter. The pace is slow, the action sparce, and the impact generally missing.

The cast ranges from adequate to excellent. In the latter category is Dorian Logan as the youngest of the barbers. He has a vitality and a “real” quality which is missing in some of the other performers. Darryl Alan Reed (Andre) , as the barber with a past, gives a creditable performance. Adolphus Ward as the wise veteran haircutter fails to project and many of his lines are lost. His character comes and goes, making this a surface level performance. Of the rest of the cast, who often play multi-roles, Bill Grimmette is delightful as the pompous Reverend Jenkins and Don King.

This is an intimate play. The large stage of the Bolton Theatre does not lend itself to a small three-chair barber shop, in spite of a spiffy set design by Michael Carnahan. The poor acoustics of the Bolton cause hearing problems. Many of the lines get lost in the towering ceiling and side balconies. It’s really a shame that the Play House does not have an intimate thrust or black box theatre that lends itself to a play like ‘CUTTIN’ UP.’

Capsule judgement: It’s too bad that “CUTTIN’ UP’ is such a weak script and receives such a weak production because the message it attempts to present is important and could have added significantly to Black History Month.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Music of Jacques Brel

Kalliope’s ‘THE MUSIC OF JACQUES BREL is enjoyable, but ....

As I sat watching Kalliope Stage’s ‘THE MUSIC OF JACQUES BREL,’ my mind wandered back to the early 1970s when I saw the opening night of Berea Summer Theatre‘s JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS.’ This magical production starred Cliff Bemis, David Frazier, Providence Hollander and Terri Pieto. It was directed by Joe Garry, with musical direction by David Gooding.

In 1973 Garry was approached to bring the musical to the defunct State Theatre in downtown Cleveland. The projected two-week run become so popular that it was performed for the next two-and-a-half-years. It heralded the revival of what is now the Playhouse Square Foundation, the second largest theater facility outside of New York City’s Lincoln Center. Many think, if not for Jacques Brel, the theatres in Playhouse Square would have been bulldozed and the history of Cleveland forever changed.

Brel, contrary to common belief, is Belgian, not French. He made his impact, however, as a French cabaret singer and a commentator on life. His songs are generally about love, death and the struggles that life is, but he also wrote about the ironic nature of existence. He incorporates strong emotional perceptions and creates visual images with meaningful poetic vocabulary.

Instances from the BW/Playhouse Square production stand out. Gary and Gooding’s show flowed seemlessly from song-to-song, creating a unity of life’s highs and lows. Another factor was the quality of the voices and acting of the cast. There were no weak segments in that production. Emotions were felt and clearly displayed. There was no posing nor feigning of feelings. Especially exciting were the renditions of “Carousel” a glorious song about how we are euphorically carried on the merry-go-round of life, and the final selection,“If We Only Have Love,” a tribute to all that is good about living.

Interestingly, as nicely done as Kalliope’s ‘THE MUSIC OF JACQUES BREL’ is, it lacks many of the special components. The cast can sing well, but they generally lack the immersion, the magical qualities that are need to make the show great. They sometimes sing words, not meanings. They sometimes feign emotions.

Director Paul Gurgol’s concept doesn’t meld the songs. There are unnecessary blackouts between many numbers which break the mood.

For some inexplicable reason, Michael Hamilton, the musical arranger and/or Gurgol decided that “Carousel” is a song about getting out of sync with life, that life is frustrating confusion. And, try as they might, “If We Only Have Love,’ fails to explode with emotion and invite us to leave the theatre on an emotional high ready to face whatever the world throws at us.

Yes, this is not the same script. Kalliope’s ‘THE MUSIC OF JACQUES BREL’ and ‘JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS’ are different, but they are still Brel. And, no matter how you slice it or dice it, Brel’s musical sounds, meanings and passions are present. Hamilton’s arrangements often weaken the meaning of the songs. One tune has almost a country sound, several are given farcical interpretations which, though they may be audience pleasing, don’t do justice to Brel. Hamming it up, isn’t Brel. Feigning feeling is not Brel.

This is not to indicate the Kalliope production is bad. It isn’t. The average theatre-goer, as apparently did the majority of the opening night audience, will enjoy the experience. The musical fits into Kalliope’s intimate performance space. The cast, Jodi Brinkman, Joan Ellison, Chaz Statham, Adina Bloom and William Marshall have strong and clear voices. There are some nice moments. There is some good humor. But, there isn’t the consistent greatness of Brel. There is a quality of ordinariness that doesn’t inspire us to understand and appreciate the greatness that is Brel.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Director Paul Gurgol chose to do ‘THE MUSIC OF JACQUES BREL’ rather than ‘JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS,’ because he wanted to put his “own stamp” on the happenings. He did so. He has produced a pleasant, but not totally inspiring theatrical experience.

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!!!