Review: Equus

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Peter Shaffer’s Equus starts with the stark news that a young man has blinded six horses, and the wild ride deep into his psyche easily sustains the play through to its conclusion. In Promethean Theatre Company's production at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, Bob Edes Jr., as psychiatrist Martin Dysart, and Jesse Friedman, as the troubled assailant Alan Strang, star in an intense production.

The play is set in England and most of the cast sticks with British accents throughout. Hesther Saloman (Rebecca Frank) convinces the reluctant Dysart to treat Strang. More numb with horror than menacing, the boyish Alan resists him at first, but Dysart knows he is aching to reveal what caused him to maim the animals, especially because it’s clear Strang reveres horses. Leah Farrelly’s very effective two-tiered set makes the front of the stage into Dysart’s office, and a raised back portion serves as Strang’s hospital room and the setting for most of his disgorged memories.

By the time Strang’s parents visit, it is clear they have unwittingly shaped their son’s passions for better and worse. Unfortunately, neither parent seems to display a terribly strong response to the horrors of their son’s crime or his placement in a psychiatric ward. They’re played too even-keeled, which belies their roles in his life and what has brought them to Dysart. They may not be emotionally open or terribly self aware characters, but they can’t be too meek either.

Strang’s love of horses led him to seek work in a stable, where he not only groomed them with great care, but realized that touching them stoked the odd and powerful adoration he has for them. Friedman is brilliant in the scene revealing the ecstatic feelings Strang has when he rides. The feelings are almost too much for the boy to bear, and he hides them from others.

The second half of the play features Dysart straining to get Strang to act out the events in the stable. The classical Greek temple-like set for stable is very effective, but some of the choices regarding the horses muddle the play’s tensions. There are male and female horses, and all males would be more appropriate, as would having them perform naked instead of in fetish wear. There’s already nudity in the play, and some of the choreographed horse scenes seem to diffuse the tension when the play should be surging to its conclusion.

In spite of the few destabilizing choices, Edes, Friedman and Frank more than deliver on the main thrust of the work, and it’s a powerful rendition of an unsettling drama.

Equus
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., March 1-2; 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun., March 2-3
Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, 325 Minor St., Kenner, (504) 461-9475

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