Actor’s Express’ production of Equus is just as provoking as the script itself. With an intriguing set, top-notch performances and compelling staging, the play brings this classic to life with raw emotion. Directed by David Crowe, the show is compelling, dark and at times beautifully staged.
Presented in the round, the well-designed set by Isabel A. Curley-Clay and Moriah Curley-Clay seems minimal at first glance, but they have layered in much complexity to it. Along with the lighting design by Mary Parker and costumes by the Curley-Clays, the staging becomes one of the show’s stars.
A Greek painting tops the wall that includes a screen with a horse-like rorschach on it. On each side of the screen are three chairs, which set up an interesting, although somewhat confusing staging, where actors sit while not “on stage.” The set serves as both the hospital and the stable.
There is a certain tinge of macabre to the set, which alludes to the depth and darkness of the play itself. Based on a true event, the story is playwright Peter Shaffer’s imagined idea of why a young man might blind horses. A psychological deconstruction of this young man’s mind, the events are told through the eyes of the doctor, Martin Dysart, who is treating him in a mental hospital. Yet, the doctor himself is facing his own demons and working with the young man only drives him further into his own murky state.
Played by Chris Kayser, Dysart’s persona is both calm and calculating. Underneath a reserved exterior, he creates a man who is unsure of himself, going through what the character terms as “professional menopause.” Giving one of his strongest performances, Kayser is brilliant in the role.
Equally as stunning, Kyle Brumley (Alan Strang) creates a sympathetic and emotionally captivating troubled young man. Attacking the role with utter abandon, he brings the audience on an emotional roller coaster that rises above the written dialogue. His final scene, filled with intense emotion, awes. The performance, the lighting and staging work to create a powerful climax to the story.
Both Rial Ellsworth and Joanna Daniel, as Alan’s parents, along with Sarah Elizabeth Wallis, as Jill Mason, give memorable performances. But, it is it ensemble (Christina Boland, Matthew Busch, Niki Edwards, Bryan Striepe) and Jason-Jamal Ligon as the horse Nugget that stand out among the other cast members. Their performances realistically capture the likeness of horses, and they accent the staging wonderfully.
Despite the strong production value and performances, the show is still held captive by the script. While hailed a classic, it will not leave very many, if any, audience members in the middle. You will love or hate it. The depressing, cerebral text is heavy on monologue with much focussed on the inner thoughts of the doctor and not as much as on Alan, causing it to lose audience members at times.
Equus is a play certainly worth seeing, and Actor’s Express presents a wonderful production with great performances and designs that highlight some of Atlanta’s best talent. The show runs through Aril 21, 2013, and has a run time of two hours and twenty-five minutes with an intermission. Tickets and more information are available on the Actor’s Express website.
– Kenny Norton