Peter Shaffer’s Equus is considered a modern theatrical masterpiece. Using a psychiatrist as a story-telling device ensures that the play is deeply psychological, and allows the audience to oscillate between identification with the more rational viewpoint of the psychiatrist and the inconceivable viewpoint of his patient Alan, who is being treated after blinding six horses. Through Alan’s memory and re-enactments of events, we meet his parents, boss, and friends and slowly begin to see his story through his eyes.
Equus’ Dated Controversy Plays Second Fiddle to Psychological Perspective
HE SAID: While this play has carried with it a controversy for decades, for me, what made this show controversial no longer carries as much weight in today’s world. Nudity on stage isn’t necessarily shocking anymore and the exploration of youths discovering their sexual awareness, while an interesting topic, is nothing new either. Again, it is an interesting topic worth exploring but the play for Spring Awakening, which later inspired the musical of the same name, covers the same theme with the same boldness and was written in 1891. However, while I might not see the controversy, it also has nothing to do with what makes this play good – a deeply psychological look that might cause you to debate passion vs. “normalcy”.
SHE SAID: I agree that it’s not nearly as shocking as it must have been when it premiered in 1973, and I also agree that it stands strong without being considered controversial. In my mind, the sexuality (controversial or not) actually plays second fiddle to the psychology. And because I’m a psychologist, I LOVE it. I get the same thrill from Equus as I do from a really good episode of Law & Order — only Equus is a whydunit instead of a whodunit. I really enjoy the intelligent dialogue that questions the origin of deviant behavior, as well as the painful recognition of the sacrifices that are made when we treat and “correct” those who are considered deviant.
Brighton and Zuniga Work Well in Lead Roles
HE SAID: The bulk of this heavy show is placed on the shoulders of the main two characters – Martin Dysart and Alan Strang – who are played by Kurt Brighton and Jose Zuniga respectively. Both actors are faced with a mountainous roles and they both do a commendable job. But the surprising stand out for me was Caitlin Tomlinson as Jill – the first girl to show any real interest in Alan romantically or otherwise. She brought a lovely sweet intrigue in her interactions with Alan that made the arc to her dramatic final moments incredibly developed. So much so that I feel her performance actually influenced that of Zuniga’s pushing it to a more drastic place and ultimately raising the power of that scene.
SHE SAID: Alan and Dysart absolutely carry the show, and I thought that both Brighton and Zuniga really kept me invested in the story. They both did a great job of not over-acting or over-thinking the roles, which resulted in very subtle, believable performances, which is quite a feat in Vintage’s intimate space. I also enjoyed the performances from the rest of the ensemble, particularly the women. I thought they portrayed their colorful characters naturally, and with care. The six men who portrayed the horses should be commended for the technical accomplishment of moving with challenging footwear and headgear, although I wished that they were more coordinated when the stood and sat down again, or that they had not tried to do it in unison. I particularly enjoyed the physicality that Zach Shotwell, who played Nugget, brought to that featured role.
Vintage Theatre Impresses Again with Intriguing Use of Space
HE SAID: I actually wanted to see a bit more animal physicality when the horses made their strong entrances. Furthermore, while I think the look of the horses were done well, I wanted their presence on stage while sitting in their stables to be a little bit more prominent. Without being distracting, I wanted to feel their power and I sometimes felt they lacked importance. That said, I love how continually impressed I am with Vintage’s use of their tiny space. They know their limitations and seem to be masters at using them to their advantage. The spaces were defined well and the circular walk kept things flowing nicely.
SHE SAID: The scenic design (by Peggy Morgan-Stenmark) really transformed most of the stage into a stable, which was impressive. I was a little disappointed that Dysart was restricted to his office location, but Alan’s memories and re-creations used the rest of the stage well. The costume design was stimulating, and I thought that the horse heads did a great job of suggesting a horse while allowing us to see the actors’ faces beneath. The shoes the horses were wearing were clever, incorporating actual horse shoes into the bottom, which made a satisfying clomping sound on the stage. They looked a bit precarious, which made me nervous (and one actor fell off of them at one point), but the concept was outstanding.
Equus at Vintage is Thoroughly Thought-Provoking
THEY SAID: The same people that get wrapped up in the controversy of this show are the same people that get up in arms about the play (or musical) of Spring Awakening. If you are not one of those people, then chances are you’ll be more interested in the distinct psychological lens this play uses to explore the various themes that run throughout. It’s a thought-provoking piece filled with brave performances that make it not necessarily an easy night out at the theatre but definitely makes it worth while.
For a full plot synopsis and history of Equus, see the wikipedia article. Equus presented by Vintage Theatre plays through March 20. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.