Through Sat 8/26
In the early 1970s, master wordsmith and playwright Peter Shaffer read a small news story with few details about a boy who had blinded six horses at a stable in Sussex, England. The writer’s imagination went into full gear. He created a script which included a family background for the obsessed young man, an image of a troubled but successful psychiatrist, and wove them into a compelling play which he named Equus.
The story centers on Alan Strong (Antonio DeJesus), a teenager living in a small town in England, and Martin Dysart (Russell B. Kunz), the psychiatrist who treats him after Heather Saloman (Amiee Collier), a compassionate magistrate, pleads with Dysart to take Alan as a patient.
From the opening scene, in which Alan tenderly hugs Nugget, a horse, to the emotional closing, Shaffer’s two-and-a-half-hour script grabs and holds the viewer’s attention. With Dysart as the narrator, we meet Frank (Andrew Narten), Alan’s atheistic, hypercritical father, and Dora (Claudia Esposito), his enabling school teacher mother. We learn how Jill Mason (Sarah Blubaugh), a young woman, introduces him to stable owner Harry Dalton (Chris Bizub) who hires the boy. We observe as Jill attempts to introduce the virgin boy to sex. We observe Alan connect to the stable’s horses (Daryl Kelley, Jason Falkofsky, Zac Hudak, Evan Martin, Anthony Salatino and David Turner), whom Alan loves, yet are the subject of his maiming.
We observe Alan change from a boy who chants advertising jingles in order to protect himself from human contact, to revealing a little of his past, to finally coming to an understanding of why he acted as he did, with the possibility of his becoming “normal,” whatever that means.
Alan is not the only one with high angst. Dysart is in a loveless, sexless marriage, is living an unfulfilled existence, and finds himself having severe nightmares about being a destructive chief priest in Homeric Greece.
The tale is told in retrospect. Dysart, as the narrator, takes the audience to various times and places as fits the tale, rather than making the story sequential.
Equus is a tale of passion, religion, sexuality, pain, blame and freedom. Alan, a boy in pain, is obsessed with horses from first coming in contact with one on a beach when he was young. He creates Equus into a Christ-like figure. Even his first attempt at sex takes place in his “church,” the horse stable, where he is unable to perform when the horses whinny, sending a message of his wrong doing. Dysart, like the audience, tries to figure out if Alan’s problems, including his need for freedom, are his own doing or those created by his parents, and whether he is freeing the horses from their confinement and pain by blinding them.
Equus is a difficult play to stage. For the script to work, it requires two superb actors, a strong supporting cast, creative staging, a meaningful vision for the horses, subtle and appropriate English accents, and a set that enhances the action.
Fortunately, director Patrick Ciamacco has found the cast and has the originality gene to make the near impossible possible. At an open tryout, Ciamacco found boyish looking 20-year old Antonio DeJesus. DeJesus lives up to the English interpretation of his last name, which is “of God,” as Alan. DeJesus gives what has to be one of the most enveloping, highly textured performances by a male the local theater season.
Russell B. Kunz creates a believable, well-conceived, tortured Martin Dysart. He is a great match for DeJesus. Amiee Collier, Andrew Narten, Claudia Esposito, Chris Bizub and Sarah Blubaugh are all prime in their roles.
Noah Hrebek and Patrick Ciamacco’s horse fabrications, and Ciamacco’s set design, which takes us into a barn, complete with Alan’s pit of Hell, enhances the production. Be aware that the production contains full frontal male and female nudity.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Equus is not only one of Blank Canvas’s finest productions, but one of the best stagings of the script I’ve seen. This is required attendance for anyone interested in experiences of marrying a well-written script with a superb staging. If for no other reason, go to the theater to experience the marvel of Antonio DeJesus.
Blank Canvas’s Equus runs through Sat 8/26. For tickets go to blankcanvastheatre.com.