Equus asks us what we worship, and how ecstatically, and how unwaveringly, and suggests that our answer—whatever it is, however we come to it—can never transport us to a state where our faith is complete, where our peace is permanent, where we won't be asked those troubling questions again. Also? There's nudity!
Peter Shaffer's 1973 play tells the story of an adolescent boy who is sent to a successful psychiatrist after his pathological attraction to horses suddenly prompts him to poke out their eyes with a spike. As the psychiatrist gradually unravels the mysterious motivations of a boy who is considered abnormal, he is progressively unsettled by the just-as-mysterious forces that have motivated his own, supposedly normal life. What eternal ecstasies and tortures has he sacrificed to live in the rational construct of the modern world?
Equus was an instant success and has become an enduring pillar of modern theater (a revival with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe opens this month in London), both for the ultimately incomprehensible depth of its subject and the deft staging that makes these issues surprisingly accessible. And because people take their clothes off.
For its part, the STAGESTheatre leaves no doubt about where its devotions lie—its presentation of Equus never vacillates in its faithfulness to the original material and production. Small theaters seem so often tempted to try to compensate for the size of their stages or budgets by applying some personalizing stamp on a show. But director Gary Krinke apparently recognizes that the true challenge is to explore the expansive themes within Equus rather than to twist them into some thin, attention-getting stunt.
Brian Kojac's portrayal of the psychiatrist Martin Dysart enables us to see the relationship among the character's good intent, irritating smugness, deep fear and brave honesty. And speaking of bravery, Jason Paul Evans is unflinching in his role as the complicated kid Alan Strang, indulging the character's gods and demons without indulging his own ego as an actor. Not to mention, he has to get naked.
In fact, there is no weak link in this cast, which is especially impressive because every character is so riddled with idiosyncrasies and nuances—even the horses, played by men in headdresses and high-heeled horseshoes who have mastered the subtle movements of these animals . . . but who, ironically, keep their pants on.
EQUUS, AT STAGESTHEATRE, 400 E. COMMONWEALTH AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 525-4484; WWW.STAGESOC.ORG. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 6 P.M. THROUGH FEB. 18. $16.