Monthly Archive for: ‘November, 2016’
A horse is the projection of people’s dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful. Pam Brown
Man and horse have been linked for millennia. Man harnessed the beast’s strength, speed, and skill to serve as a porter of man and materiel as well as an ally in battle. More recently, the steed has been used for entertainment, leisure, and comfort. Peter Shaffer took that relationship to a higher level in 1973 with his acclaimed play Equus. The essence of the plot is based on a real life incident that is revealed at the outset, and the narrative ensues largely as a psychiatric procedural. In a merciless act, a teenage boy who is a stablehand blinds six horses by driving a metal stake into their eyes. Theatre Rhinoceros aptly and vividly portrays this character study of a troubled youth and his unsettling and tragic affection for horses.
The teen, Alan Strang, is shy, aimless, and conflicted. His mother, who was a horse lover in earlier days, sees life through a religious lens. She married beneath her class to a printer who is an atheist. Perhaps in deference to his own profession, the father appreciates reading and refuses to allow a television in the house. He argues that television makes promises to deliver more to the viewer but actually makes the viewer less in the end. This clash of values in which the boy was raised serves as the basis for the boy’s confusion.
When Alan becomes a horse groom, he makes a passionate connection unlike any he has had before. At one level, the horses provide therapy, but ultimately, the boy’s feelings become unhealthy with layers of eroticism and religion.
Much of the action centers on Alan’s interaction with his psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, who attempts to solve the riddle of the heinous deed. It proceeds as battle of wits and wills between the systematic professional and his crazed and enigmatic patient. At the start, Alan is totally unresponsive, and when he finally gives in, he notably and repeatedly blurts out the television jingle for Doublemint gum, perhaps in defiance of his father’s strictures. Through cajoling, exchange of secrets, and trickery, Dysart gradually extracts communication from Alan and meaning from the deed.
The staging is spare but striking. The centerpiece is like a figurative boxing ring, but of framed two-by-fours, rather than ropes. Figurative horse heads of outlined bright silver that actors wear when representing horses adorn the stage. Dramatic lighting heightens the effect of the numerous verbal fights that occur.
John Fisher directs a fine cast. Fisher himself is Dr. Dysart, whom he plays with intellectual authority and a touch of flippancy that a man who hasn’t achieved his potential might exhibit. Morgan Lange makes a stunning professional debut as Alan, exhibiting emotions from rage to vacuousness with equal conviction, and in a haunting look that is reminiscent of the eponymous character from The Who’s rock opera Tommy.
An ensemble of three actors play multiple roles, each having a defining part. Rudy Guerrero and Ann Lawler are unsmiling and severe as the parents. But they both capably shift personality gears to embody roles as a nurse and a court magistrate respectively. Iris Haas-Biel is Jill, who is Alan’s colleague at the stable. She provides an air of free-spirited relief as the only significant character who doesn’t seem stunted by self-doubt or guilt.
Shaffer’s award-winning work is provocative and gripping. Under Fisher’s direction, it is consistently riveting. Audience members will not leave the theatre cheerful and smiling, but they will appreciate having witnessed a classic play produced in a professional manner.
Equus by Peter Shaffer is produced by Theatre Rhinoceros and plays at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco through December 10, 2016.