More Than Just Horse Play – A review of “Equus”

 By Nick Mitchell, ‘Burgh Vivant

Few plays explore the relationship between psychiatrist and patient better than Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play “Equus.” For that very reason, it has been a go-to piece for theaters from the collegiate level all the way up to the Broadway.

Alan Strang (Evan Saunders) is a troubled seventeen-year-old male patient who speaks only in jingles. He also violently blinded six horses. Martin Dysart (John E. Lane Jr. ) is a middle-aged doctor whose fascination with his patients offsets the monotony of his mundane everyday existence.

The Red Masquers at Duquesne University selected “Equus” as a part of their “Masterpiece Season” and they, indeed, have the actors to back it up.

Alan Strang is a brooding, cryptic teen with wild eyes that cannot hide a continuous silent plea for relief. Before talking about his performance, attention should be paid to Red Masquers’ practice of casting students alongside age-appropriate faculty and professionals. This is invaluable experience for young actors and it lends even more credence to the faculty the next time they are in a classroom setting. While education is often plagued with the errant credo “Those who cant…teach.”, the students at Duquesne are surrounded by artists willing to do both. Professor Lane’s vulnerable, fiery, nuanced performance in “Equus” leaves no one doubting the fact that he can indeed do AND teach.

Such a complex play as “Equus” is not without it’s challenges. Performed in the round, director Justin Sines played his angles quite well. It did however appear that some sides of the seating area got a little more face time than others. Often this was partially due to the size disparity between Mr.Lane and Mr. Saunders. A wonderful aspect of the set was actually behind the audience. Two of the back walls of the intimate Genesius Theater were wood slats emulating the barn where much of the flashback action was set. The other two were walls of antiseptic blinds that would be found in doctors offices or hospitals.

Lighting designers Antonia Gelorme and Christina Levi subtly lit the walls to locate the action essentially enveloping the audience.  It would have been interesting if a little of that duality had also been built into the central set which lent itself entirely to accents of rustic barn decor.

“Equus” has been riding strong for 45 years. No matter how much time passes the story remains relevant. The doctor/patient dynamic affords actor, director, and audience endless perspectives. Alan Strang worships horses as his Gods. “Equus” wants you to ask yourself who your Gods are. What would you do if you felt you let them down? To whom could you even speak about it? Dr. Dysart wonders if taking pain away strips people of their humanity. Would you rather truly live with pain or simply exist painlessly? For these questions, and many others, it will be at least another 45 years before Equus is laid to rest in the glue factory

Equus continues Thurs April 19th and runs through April 29th. Thurs-Sat at 8pm. Sun at 2pm. Genesius Theater at Duquesne University. For more information, click here.

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