The Asolo presents a strong production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus.
By Kay Kipling
If Peter Shaffer’s Equus has perhaps less dramatic impact today than it did 30-plus years ago when it first arrived on stage, that may be due to changing times in the field of psychiatry, or the playwright’s occasional tendency to repeat at length a point we’ve already gotten. It’s not due to any flaws in the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s current production of the play, which is a strong one.
Equus deals with the case of a troubled teen, Alan Strang (Juan Javier Cardenas), a normally gentle boy who has seemingly inexplicably blinded six horses at the stables where he works. Alan is brought to the attention of an overworked and perhaps used-up psychiatrist (Paul Whitworth) by a magistrate friend (Randy Danson) who acknowledges the horror of the crime, but can’t help feeling sorry for the perpetrator, whom she sees as being in horrible pain.
Paul Whitworth and Juan Javier Cardenas in the Asolo Rep’s Equus.
At first Alan is resistant to any sort of treatment, spouting commercial jingles or reverting to angry silence when asked questions. But at last Dr. Dysart begins to untangle the psychological problems that led to the act—along the way asking himself some searing questions about his own personal and professional life. For Alan, horses represent something both sacred and sexual, and Dysart finds himself missing those elements in his mundane existence and longing for a passion he no longer feels.
The action of Equus takes place on an almost bare stage, with the transformation of locale and time rendered largely by excellent lighting by Lap-Chi Chu. The movements of the horse-actors, choreographed by Jimmy Hoskins, are convincing, and the overall direction by Michael Donald Edwards is both sympathetic and stirring, building to a properly theatrical and emotional climax.
The cast in general supports each other very well, with fine work by both Cardenas and Whitworth and some nice moments from Danson, along with Douglas Jones and Devora Millman as Alan’s parents. As a girl who awakens Alan’s interest in the opposite sex, Jessi Blue Gormezano could be less saucy and flirty and still succeed in the role, but her pivotal scene with Cardenas in the stables has all the impact it should.
Equus, which continues through May 4 in rotating rep at the Asolo, contains some strong language, violence and nudity, so it’s certainly not for children. But adults should find themselves responding, both viscerally and intellectually, to Shaffer’s subject matter.
For tickets call 351-8000 or go online at asolo.org.