Chris Kayser Explores the Darkness and Redemption in Equus

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Atlanta's Equus at Actor's Express

Kyle Brumley (as Alan Strang) and Chris Kayser (Dr. Dysart) in Equus. Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

Known for playing Shakespearean roles with Georgia Shakespeare and Scrooge each year at the Alliance, Chris Kayser has played multiple  characters that are considered tough and emotionally taxing. But, there is something about Martin Dysart in Equus that Kayser finds intriguing and difficult.  “It is a very, very challenging role. Intellectually, spiritually and emotionally it is a really tough role. That is the part you have to embrace,” he explains.

One of the challenges is the darkness that is explored in the play. For Kayser, Dysart’s role as the psychiatrist treating a troubled young man who has blinded horses opens the door into deep places. The characters dive into the world the boy has created to escape his own inner demons and hurts.

“He is taking on a lot of the pain that the young boy feels. When you see him at the end, he is far worse off than he was at the beginning,” Kayser states. “I have done a lot of challenging roles, but this one is really sort of a bottomless role; so big that the character can’t figure it out. He tries and tries his best right to the very end.”

The show, which explores the ideas of what is normal and what is crazy, is set in the hospital where Dysart works. Through his sessions with Alan Strang, the young boy who blinded the horses, the audience discovers the emotional turmoil that led to the event.

A play such as this one can take an emotional toll on a character. The actors are asked to explore deep and dark emotions that can be unsettling. For many actors, this situation can create a dangerous tail spin that can be hard for the actor to recover from and leave on the stage. Kayser admits that this situation is one that could have been tough to divorce himself from in his younger years.

“When the curtain comes down, you are left hanging there. Often, it is not easy to come back. Over the course of a career, it is something you just have to learn – figure a way to shake it off,” he explains. “Early in my career I had difficulty walking away from characters, particularly deeply emotional ones like this one.”

Accomplishing this task isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Kayser has learned that it is a personal journey that each actor has to experience on his/her own, and he invites any young actor to talk to him about it. There is one route that he advises against. “There’s no pill you can take. In fact that is one of the things you shouldn’t be doing,” he says.

Rachel Shuey (asNurse) and Kyle Brumley (as Alan Strang); Background: Kathleen Wattis (as Hesther) and Chris Kayser (Dr. Dysart) in Equus. Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

Rachel Shuey (asNurse) and Kyle Brumley (as Alan Strang); Background: Kathleen Wattis (as Hesther) and Chris Kayser (Dr. Dysart) in Equus. Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

Such a challenging play fits right in at Actor’s Express, which is continuing to celebrate the 25th Anniversary Season. Known for pushing the envelope with provocative plays, Kayser, who himself has been in several productions at Actor’s Express, feels that Equus continues the tradition.

“This is a challenging and envelope-pushing play, believe me. They are not afraid to take on a weighty kind of play like this one,” he comments. “There’s a long history there, and I am very proud to have been a part of that and part of their anniversary season in a fantastic play like Equus.”

He credits the artistic directors, especially Freddie Ashley, who is currently in the position, for making the theater’s reputation such a strong one.

“It may be a play that other theaters don’t want to touch, but Freddie’s got the guts to do it. I’m thankful for Freddie and his choice of plays,” Kayser says. “That’s one of the best things about Actor’s Express is the choice of plays and the juicy roles you get to play in them.”

You can see Kayser in Equus, which plays at Actor’s Express through April 21, 2013. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website.