REVIEW: Equus (Ludicrous Theatre)

Ludicrous horses around with modern classic

 

Eqqus - Ludicrous Theatre - poster

    
Ludicrous Theatre presents
   
Equus
   
Written by Peter Shaffer
Directed by
Wayne Shaw
at
Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
through November 6th  |  tickets: $15   |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Probably my favorite aspect of Peter Shaffer’s 1976 psychological mindbender Equus is the hodgepodge of a religion he creates, one that cherry picks Christian themes and collides them with children books and commercial jingles. And horses, of course. Alan Strang, the head priest and sole member of Shaffer’s cult, creates a faith from everything that surrounds him. In particular, I love the word Alan gives the sacred riding bit, “chinkle-chankle,” and the devout seriousness in which he utters the babyish term. While usually goofy and occasionally unsettling, Alan’s horse-worship serves as a jumping-off point for a quest for spirituality in our modern world. After seeing any production of Equus, Shaffer’s views leave me rattled. Ludicrous Theatre’s production understands the play, but director Wayne Shaw is unable to effectively communicate the drama’s full power.

100_0604In a bold attempt to make the play seem more relevant, Ludicrous’ big “twist” on the script is changing Shaffer’s Southern English countryside setting to an area a few miles outside of Reno, Nevada. There’s at least one Sarah Palin t-shirt and several large belt buckles. The changes pretty much stop there. One wonders if Alan’s father Frank, who is described as “an old time socialist,” would be readily found in such an environment. In the end, the new take doesn’t really do much damage or enlightenment. Shaw and his cast have much bigger issues to worry about, anyway.

Buried in Ludicrous’ mission statement is the desire to explore the spiritual and the sexual on-stage. Equus provides plenty of fodder for both. I don’t know if I have every seen more balls on display for longer periods of time, and I’m not sure if I ever will. For most of the two-and-a-half hour piece, Justin Landry stands upstage completely naked besides a wire contraption shaped like a horse’s head. Shaw gets his Alan, Ian McCabe, nude as often as he possibly can. The nudity is interesting in certain respects (horses are naked, after all). It becomes over-the-top and cringe-worthy in several spots—especially when Alan is actively recounting his arousing experience riding Nugget (Landry). We end up with something that looks an awful lot like anal sex, but really awkward.

Staging in general is a weak point of Shaw’s. The production doesn’t really know how to handle the more abstract moments, such as when Alan recounts his first ride on a horse. A lot of the movement is unmotivated as well. There’s an old-time film noir feel to the acting—the cast pushes at the melodrama whenever they can, standing up just to sit back down, moving across the stage to signal distress or deep thought, etc.

 

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Kevin Heller is miscast as Dysart, Alan’s psychologist and spinner of this yarn. In voice and appearance Heller comes off as far too young. Conversely, McCabe comes off way too old. They change his age to 20 from the scripted 17, but this leads to more questions. Part of what makes Shaffer’s play so gripping is the fact that Alan is so young; place the character a few years older, and you wonder why no one found his antics strange, or how a kid who can barely read graduated high school.

There is a (most likely unintentional) brilliance in Heller’s casting. His Dysart is wooden, boring, and clinical. While not great acting, it brought to mind the thematic clash at the heart of the story, begrudging acceptance of mediocrity vs. explosive spiritual awakening.

This sort of accidental freshness pervades the whole production. The over-the-top style and uneven acting ability somehow still showcases the play, much more than the imposed alterations. McCabe manages to nail Alan’s flailing mysticism, a crucial requirement. This is by no means the definitive Equus (it’s not even the best storefront Equus this year—Red Twist had a much better handle), yet, at the end of the night, you will leave meditating on what divides the holy from the unholy in this world.

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
   

Ludicrous Theatre's Equus Cast

CAST: Kevin Heller as Martin Dysart, Ian McCabe as Alan Strang, Robert Dean Wells as Frank Strang, Elizabeth “Missy” Styles as Dora Strang, Suzanne Bracken as Hester Salomon, Kristen Bjorge as Jill Mason, Josh Becker as Harry Dalton, Justin Landry as Nugget and Amy Gray as Nurse.

       
       

2 Responses

  1. Could you be a little more specific? You say film noir and uneven, but the only examples you give are Kevin Heller and Ian McCabe.

  2. Spent a lot of time trying to find this virtually unmarked theatre and a parking spot. Turned out I was the only customer Thurs. night, and they don’t do the show for less than three paying people. They were nice about it.

    I guess I should have gone to the gay bar on the corner, and recruited two more guys (free tickets to see naked boys might have made it easy).

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