Ryan Pater and Dean Thomas in EQUUS. Photo by Frankie Dailey.
BOTTOM LINE: The Gallery Players ambitiously tackles Peter Shaffer's masterpiece about a boy's fanatical obsession with horses.
Equus is a seriously difficult play. The Gallery Players faces the piece head on and without compromise. The small ensemble cast is lead by Alfred Gingold as Dr. Martin Dysart and Dean Thomas as his challenging patient Alan Strang. Working off a minimalistic concept from director Mark Gallagher, this production utilizes lighting and sound to create an eerie atmosphere appropriate to the show’s themes and tone. The production provides for all the necessities of the play, not surprising nor disappointing. The Gallery Players' Equus feels controlled but does not lack emotion.
Equus tells the story of child psychologist Dr. Dysart and his new patient, Alan Strang. Alan is brought to the doctor after being arrested for blinding several horses with a metal spike. As the plot unfolds, Dysart becomes a sort of psychological detective, sorting through stories of Alan’s childhood recounted by Alan’s parents, and eventually Alan himself, to get to the bottom of Alan’s strange obsession with horses. As each story comes to light, the truth of Alan’s bizarre sexual and religious connection with horses becomes evident. Dysart discovers that Alan, in a weird mix of psychosexual attraction, worships an unknowable horse god Alan calls “Equus.” Dysart unravels more and more of Alan’s psychosis until finally arriving at the conclusion and Alan’s account of what happened the night he gouged out the eyes of several horses at the stables where he formerly worked.
Dysart continually questions his own motivations behind his desire to cure Alan. As he learns more of Alan's experiences with horses Dysart asks if he truly will be curing the boy by removing his passion and “worship.” Or will he only be perpetuating the sort of zombie-like state the majority of the human race has fallen into after their wonder at the myserties of life have abated? Shaffer's script is loaded with philosophical questions as to the nature of humanity, such as our need for worship, and sexual repression and expression. Dysart asks the audience repeatedly through direct address if he really is doing the right thing in making Alan "better." The audience has to make that decision for themselves.
Equus is well known for it's -- now famous -- nudity in the second act. (Anyone remember the constant media buzz when former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe took on the role in 2007's West End/Broadway productions?) The Gallery Players does not shy away from the soul and body-bearing second act, however clever use of lighting and blocking keep the nudity from becoming the focus -- a task not always easily accomplished in live theatre.
Thomas brings energy and intensity to the role of Alan. He bravely enters Alan's world and commits in every scene. Gingold is methodical and desperate for passion in a perfect balance of longing and traditional English sensibility. Gallagher keeps the blocking interesting through several scenes driven entirely by characters retelling events that already happened -- or as in the case of Dysart, soliloquizing on the nature of human psychosis. The lighting, designed by Scott Borowka, is well suited and ghostly. Overall it's a well handled, concretely acted production of Peter Shaffer's classic.
(Equus plays at The Gallery Players Theatre, 199 14th Street in Brooklyn, through December 22, 2013. Performances are Thursdays through Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $18 for adults, $14 for senior citizens and children 12 and under, and are available at galleryplayers.com or by calling 212.352.3101.)