07 October 2010

If wishes were horses...

It was the Spring of 1978, in my freshman year at Xavier University, in the required composition II/intro to lit course that I first encountered Equus by Peter Shaffer.

My having just read Oedipus the King for the same class, as well as being in the second semester of elementary (classical) Greek at a Jesuit university, amounted to pretty much of a perfect storm for being overwhelmed/attracted to/seduced by this contemporary tragedy with a classical feel and, more importantly, a classical impact.  A psychiatrist, as he tries to uncover the reason for a teen's unspeakable act of blinding six horses, uncovers just as much about himself and the high cost of normalcy.  Equus is what I remember to be the first piece of literature that, once I started it, I couldn't put it down.

I'm pretty sure that, somewhere along the way, I must have seen the Sidney Lumet film with Richard Burton and Colin Firth, but my first chance to see a staging of Equus came last night at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford.  I had to leave watching the historic no-hitter that the Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay was in the process of throwing against my Cincinnati Reds in the playoffs, but, I have to admit, it was well worth it

(Quick aside: I cannot believe, as I discovered during my drive to the theatre, that the local ESPN Radio affiliate -- AM 1410 -- was NOT airing the Cincinnati/Philadelphia game, choosing instead to air its usual local sports talk show!  Oy.)

With an excellent cast, led by powerful performances by Alan Rust (Dr. Martin Dysart) and Hartt School student Mark Ford (Alan Strang), and under the strong direction of Robert H. Davis, the script that grabbed me so long ago has finally fulfilled its promise for me in this first-rate production. 

Everything clicks here: the caring judge (Nora Chester) who convinces Dysart to take on the patient, the tentative-turned-trusting relationship between doctor and patient,  the conflicted and in-conflict parents (Terry Layman and Denise Walker), the girl who never quite gets Alan -- in any way (played with a knowing innocence by another Hartt student Jill Mason), the original score/sound designed composed by yet another Hartt student Noah Kaufman, and, not insignificantly, the nuanced performances of the horses (especially Hartt student Charles South as Nugget).  There's simply not a false note struck here in the 2 1/2 hours. 

The play never pulls its punches, and neither does this production, keeping faithful to the playwright's vision with the Greek-inspired horse masks and cothurni hooves (and, yes, the nudity).  Appropriately, the Playhouse recommends this only for those 16 and older.

A beautifully written play, elegantly staged, with honest performances: it's why one goes to see live theatre. 

Equus runs through the 17th of October at Playhouse on Park.


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