KPBS AIRDATE: May 6, 1992
What, exactly, is Normal ? And who are any of us to say? If a psychiatrist “cures” a disturbed adolescent by robbing him of his passion, his faith and his mythos, will he then be Normal ? And what will his life be like — the empty, passionless greyness the rest of us endure?
These are the kinds of questions Dr. Martin Dysart grapples with in Peter Shaffer’s brilliant, provocative 1973 play, “Equus,” which was made into a rather unimaginative and absurdly concrete movie in 1977.
It’s a talky piece; the doctor narrates the story of young Alan Strang, a 17 year-old who senselessly and systematically blinded five horses with a steel spike. The crime was real, but Shaffer knew none of the details. He created an explanation for an unfathomable act, and in the process, raised deep, searing questions about our “civilized” society and the distortions it forces on the spirit.
“Equus” is a very powerful play, and requires tremendous skill to pull off effectively: a strong directorial vision, talented actors who can convey intense emotion with restraint, and lithe, graceful prancers who can portray the stately, suggestive horses.
Sweetooth Comedy Theatre’s production was late out of the gate. Ten days before the opening, the director and lead actor were scratched. Kevin P. Mullin is credited with staging, set and lighting design. Stephen Brown, who came in at the last minute and pulled it all together, is called consulting director. And in the Dark Horse Department, Michael Scahill had to step in just before the starting bell and assume the massive role of Martin Dysart.
The challenge of the play was enormous to begin with. But given a hobbled production, the odds were heavily against Sweetooth. Miraculously, they’ve managed to breathe life into their “Equus.”
It’s by no means a perfect production. The actors need to be reined in. The horses need to be more regal and balletic. The sensuality must be heightened. And the doctor needs to take less time to find his stride; the piece gets off to a slow start.
But there are makings of real ensemble work here, which should only increase through the run. And there’s a central focus, the enigmatic Alan Strang, who is intensely, volcanically played by Morgan Brown, son of the consulting director. There are some very muscular moments here, and some forceful images.
Sweetooth’s production is worth putting your money on. It’s a sure bet that the play will make your heart race and your mind gallop.
I’m Pat Launer for KPBS radio.
©1992 Patté Productions Inc.