The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings




Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants









Free Updates
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Berkshires Review

All right, he's sick. He's full of misery and fear. . .but that boy has known a passion more ferocious than I have felt in any second of my life. . .that's what his stare has been saying to me all the time, 'at least I galloped! When did you?'. . .
--- Dr. Martin Dysart, for whom Alan Strang has become much more than another troubled teenager needing help, but a catalyst for realizing he is himself in a state of emotional crisis.

Cranwell Resort

Victor Slezak as Dr. Martin Dysart & Randy Harrison as Alan Strang
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
It's been thirty years since Equus, Peter Shaffer's psychological detective story about a teenager and his homo-erotic, spiritual relationship with horses galloped away with the Tony for Best Play as well as a Drama Critics Circle Award. The play, while revived occasionally, has not been done as much as some titles in the canon of trailblazing dramas from the final half of the twentieth century. For one thing the steamy mix of a childhood encounter with a galloping horseman, dysfunctional parenting and its effect on a sensitive youth is daunting to stage. The text is talky, with the protagonist-sleuth called on to memorize super-sized monologues during his dual struggle with his own demons and those that drove his 17-year-old patient Alan Strang to bafflingly blind six horses. That struggle clocks in at a Shakespearean length rather than the currently in favor of a 90-minute nonstop play. The chorus of human equidae is difficult to make believable, and in a less than stellar production can too easily seem ludicrous and cause unintended laughter.

All this said, Berkshire Theatre Festival and director Scott Schwartz deserve our thanks for giving us a chance to revisit this now middle-aged play -- or, for those who know only Sidney Lumet's true-to-the original film adaptation starring Richard Burton and Peter Firth, to experience it live. The on stage nudity no longer shocks. Edward Albee's The Goat: Who Is Sylvia, has brought Shaffer's exploration of normalcy via a mythic and erotically charged animal-human relationship full circle. But even with its softened by time edge and some questionable directorial choices, Equus, remains a heady rumination on parenting, psychiatry and passion.

The BTF production is fortunate to have Victor Slezak to take on the demanding role of the play's narrator and main player, Dr.Martin Dysart. Besides being masterfully at ease with the lengthy chunks of dialogue as well as the emotional demands of the role, Slezak makes the most of the text's metaphoric richness (as in his rueful "There is now, in my mouth, this charp chain. And it never comes out" and the dark the humorous lines with which Shaffer punctuates the text (for example, when he ironically deprecates his calling with "one great thing about being in the adjustment business: you're never short of customers"). Randy Harrison, perhaps best known to most people through TV's Queer as Folk, is not as nuanced an actor as Slezak or as adept at Brit-speak, but he's a perfect physical fit for the other key character, Alan Strang.

Though inspired by a news story about a teenager who had for no apparent reason blinded several horses, Equus is strictly a work of imagination. The crime from the news story is what lands young Alan Strang in an English mental hospital. He's been sent there by Hesther Salomon (her name and the role she plays a nice bit of symbolim), the magistrate in charge of the case, in the hopes that her friend, the respected child psychiatrist Dr. Martin Dysart, can restore his sanity so that he can function as a normal member of society. What makes Alan's deed so unfathomable is that he tended these horses with loving devotion as a weekend stable hand for over a year. Dr. Dysart does manage to unlock the young man's troubled psyche, but something about Alan's spiritual and sexual journey into madness also shines a reflecting light on his own passionless life, which ultimately raises the issue of whether curing Alan will condemn him to a life that can only be lived at a dull, steady pace, never at an emotionally invigorating gallop.

Members of the Equus chorus
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
Unlike many of today's playwrights who include fairly minimal stage directions in their scripts (perhaps because this suits the current era of director driven theater), Shaffer was very specific in his vision for the play's look, feel and sound. Director Scott Schwartz has opted to depart quite drastically from the original staging concept: a square of wood set on a circle of wood with three benches on which the various members of the cast remain seated and visible throughout. Instead, with the help of set designer Beowulf Boritt, Schwartz has created six tall columns to suggest a horse barn. These columns are moveable and double as walls in the hospital. The upstage wall also changes to fit various scenes. As lit by Kevin Adams, it's all quite dynamic, especially when the stables come alive with the horse figures.

Ultimately, the departure from the playwright's intended simplicity tends to distract from and upstage the drama and diminish the impact of the play's mystic aura and the secondary characters, especially Alan's parents, Dora and Frank Strang -- though I have no complaints about the performances of John Curless as the dominating atheist socialist and Pamela Payton-Wright as the mother whose fanatical religious bent unwittingly lays the foundation for Alan's spiritual confusion. Roberta Maxwell's Hesther (she played Dora in the original production) is somewhat too dispassionate and judge-like as the voice of civility and the sounding board for the increasingly conflicted Dysart.

Tara Franklin is fine in her small but crucial role as the girl who introduces Alan to the stable owner (Don Sparks, in an even smaller but also well-played role) and unwittingly causes the explosion that follows their movie date (that shadowy movie scene is one of play's highlights). The black palette in which Jess Goldstein has dressed and masked the horse chorus smacks a bit of S&M bikers but Richie duPont, Joe Jung, Brad Kilgore, Ryan O'Shaughnesey, Brian Sell are theatrical and plausible; so is Steve Wilson as the God-Horse Nuggett and also the Horseman who gives the toddler Alan a ride at once thrilling and traumatizing.

Even if you end up wishing, as I did, that this were a less busy and showy production, one that trusted Shaffer's words to provide the pyrotechnics, this Equus is well worth seeing, if only for Victor Slezak's bravura performance. A caveat: Now as thirty years ago, this is not for kids or anyone squamish about nudity.

Playwright: Peter Shaffer
Director: Scott Schwartz
Cast: John Curless (Frank Strang, Tara Franklin (Jill Mason), Randy Harrison (Alan Strang), Roberta Maxwell (Hesther Salomon), Jill Michael (Nurse), Pamela Payton-Wright (Dora Strang), Victor Slezak (Dr. Martin Dysart), Don Sparks (Harry Dalton), Steve Wilson (Horseman and Nugget); Richie duPont, Joe Jung, Brad Kilgore, Ryan O'Shaughnesey, Brian Sell (horse chorus).
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Set Design: Beowulf Borit
Lighting Designer: Kevin Adams
Sound Design: Ray Schilke
Movement Consultant: Gus Solomons jr.
Berkshire Theatre Festival, Main Stage, Stockbridge, MASS or 866-811-4111 or 413-298-5576
July 12, 2005 to July 23; opening July 15th.
Monday through Saturday evening at 8pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2pm.
Tickets: $36 to$63. Students with proper ID receive 50% discount. .
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on June 16th.
deb and harry's wonderful things -  crafts .  yarns

tales from shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

Berkshire Hikes Book Cover
Berkshire Hikes &

The Berkshire Book

metaphors dictionary cover
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from