Seventeen-year-old Alan Strang is obsessed with horses — so much that he keeps a photo of one near the foot of his childhood bed and worships it. He works at a barn and things seem to be fine until he gouges out the eyes of six horses in Peter Shaffer's Equus, presented by the Promethean Theatre Company at the Marigny Opera House.
Instead of being hauled off to jail for the mutilation, Alan (Jesse Friedman) is sent to an institution where he's treated by psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Casey Groves). Alan keeps to himself and initially communicates by singing commercial jingles, but eventually he confides in Martin.
At various points in the show, four actors wearing leather pants, harnesses and metal, cagelike horse heads danced around Alan. The movement was aggressive — the horses stamped their feet at the teenager — and alluring in a visceral way. The horse-head movements were mesmerizing, and the choreography helped illustrate Alan's internal struggle.
In spite of the violence of Alan's crime, the work seeks to build empathy. His parents Frank (Jim Wright) and Dora (Wendy Neisler) have done their best to raise Alan — his mother taking a lenient approach and his father strict. But some of their preoccupations with religion and sex sent Alan down a weird path. Neisler gave a moving performance as a mother on the verge of a breakdown. The mother-son relationship is sad, and Neisler showed a great deal of restraint.
Alan's internal battle was exposed when he revealed to Martin a friendship with Jill Mason (Rebecca Greaves) that turned sexual in the stable where they both worked. Things didn't go as planned with the two young lovers, and Alan's violent reaction stemmed from his emotional repression and the proximity of their sex act to the horses he adored. Greaves gave her character an impressive vulnerability in the awkward encounter gone wrong. Friedman embodied Alan's strangeness but also conveyed the boy's naivete — a volatile mix of anxiety and fury.
With its high ceilings and cavernous feel, Marigny Opera House was an excellent venue for the show. During some scenes, blue light cast a shadow of interactions between Alan and Nugget (Diogo de Lima), the horse he identifies closest to his god-horse Equus. Their silhouetted bodies climbed the space's wall up to the roof.
There's a lot of intense subject matter — animal maiming, mental illness, cruelty — but this production of Equus handled the material in an interesting and thoughtful way.