At 1044 W. Bryn Mawr
Written by Peter Shaffer
Directed by Michael Colucci
EXTENDED Thru September 5th
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a fifteen minute intermission.
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
‘Equus is in chains for the pain of the world.’ What happens when a boyhood fantasy turns fatal attraction? Redtwist Theatre presents EQUUS. A young man viciously attacks horses. He is committed to a mental institution. The boy’s secret obsession is unharnessed by a therapist. As the boy describes the depths of his passionate connection, the therapist becomes aware of his own lackluster marriage and pain mismanagement. The therapist struggles with the advantages of being normal verses the reality of truly finding happiness. Is it better to gallop or stomp through life? EQUUS is a run-for-the-roses story where the winner and prize are uncertain.
Originally conceived to be a remount of the company’s successful 2007 production, this EQUUS is actually a redesign with only three cast and one designer returning. Under the direction of Michael Colucci, the entire cast remains stabled onstage during the show. Watching them watch the action adds an interesting staring dimension to the play. Although their synchronized presence enhances a climactic scene by donning horse heads, there is a little confusion at the end of Act I. When the cast exits, Nugget the horse centaurs onstage. It’s unclear if it is intermission or a steed solo. Scott Butler (Nugget) remains in horse to a disconcerting extent. His snorts and mane tussling is so authentic that I want to pet him en route to the bathroom. Costume designer Joelle Beranek has clad Butler in leather pants and a harness adding to the stud sexuality.
In dual roles as the set designer and Alan Strang, Andrew Jessop goes stark. The
set is basic wooden barn stalls where the horses and actors wait to take their mark. As Alan, Jessops strips (literally) down to nothing. His emotional breakdown engages with wide-eyed, vulnerable convulsions. Holding the reins on the big reveal, Brian Parry (Dr. Martin Dysart) delivers his lines with a rich booming voice and a deliberate cadence. (Imagine Captain Kirk as a therapist). Colucci has staged Parry offstage narrating for pivotal scenes. The effect has a mystical facet to the flashbacks and a repeatedly startling element to the audience on the right side. Collectively, as horses and starers, the ensemble adds a poignant judgmental backdrop to the theme. Individually, stepping into minor roles, the acting feels a little forced and disengaged to the situation. It’s like Flicka and National Velvet want their stallion moment during the movie Black Beauty. Sometimes, it’s just about finding happiness as a Clydesdale and pulling the beer wagon.
Equus is all about the horse, of course. Even sound designer Christopher Kriz has created an original soundtrack with sad melodies interspersed with faint clip-clopping. Equus, this mount has strong horsewhispers about the painful process of connecting to happiness.
Spooked by the therapist over his shoulder, James describes the show with, “Whoa! Over Acting!”