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‘Equus’: Powerful Production from TAAC

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The current offering at The Alternative Arts Collective Theatre in Roseville is a remarkably muscular interpretation of ‘Equus’, Peter Shaffer’s groundbreaking 1973 play.

‘Equus’ follows the parallel experiences of two men as they struggle to understand and heal themselves of their inner demons. Thrown together are Alan Strang, a young man who has committed the heinous crime of blinding several horses with a hoof pick, and Martin Dysart, a disillusioned child psychiatrist.

As Alan resists acknowledging and accepting his actions and the inner sexual and religious turmoil which motivates him, Dysart explores his own limitations and the ultimate futility he sees in healing Alan. The psychiatrist comes to believe that by removing the young man’s pain, he will also excise the passion and capacity for worship which had been central to Alan’s experience. The crime was an aberrant expression of something both Dysart and Alan come to see as holy.

Contributing to the story are Hesther Saloman, the magistrate who recognizes Alan’s pain and wisely commends him to the psychiatric hospital and the care of Dysart rather than to prison; Alan’s parents, the ultra-religious Dora and hypocritical, harsh Frank Strang; and Jill Mason, a young woman whose attentions precipitate Alan’s break with rationality and lead to his crime.

The cast is well-rounded, with some familiar faces from the local theater community.

Zack Myers, as Alan Strang, displays just the right amount of adolescent posturing, as when he responds to Dysart’s initial questions by singing television jingles and refusing to speak. As the play develops, Myers reveals Alan's cunning side, yet is passive and vulnerable when the conflicted and disparate relationships with his parents (played by Hazel Stream and Bob Nannini) are introduced.

Myers is convincing in his religious rapture, and in his developing sensual and sexual involvement with the horse Nugget (played by Jacob Woods). His sexual attraction to Jill (Taylor Hill) is less believable, although his nervous awareness of the presence of his God-figure Nugget/Equus is clearly drawn.

Richard Spierto said he has “wanted to play Martin Dysart since the mid 1970’s” when he first discovered the role through the traveling Broadway company, and rejoiced that he is “ finally old enough”.

Dysart is plagued by a nightmare in which he is a priest in ancient Greece responsible for the execution and evisceration of hundreds of children, a task he continues long after he has become sickened by it: he fears ridicule and retribution by his fellow priests if he fails in his duty. Spierto delivers this information with eerie, somewhat detached intensity.

Spierto plays the complex and insecure Dysart with confidence in his dealings with Alan, and with a confessional straightforward manner when speaking with his patient’s parents and with the magistrate (Sandy Phillips). He chooses a whiny petulance in his considerable soliloquies, however, and although this communicates his uncertainty and despair it is uncomfortable and disconcerting.

Phillips is relaxed and comfortable, conveying Saloman as a magistrate with the most humanity of any character onstage. She is genuinely concerned for both the patient and the doctor, and one can easily imagine her tucked up with a cup of tea and a clear conscience.

The stage and lighting design are clever, consisting of a single set with a central raised corral-like space sketched with beams and sparsely set with a bench or two and some hay bales. Spotlights direct the viewer’s attention, necessary as every actor remains onstage throughout the entire duration of the show.

The exceptions are the four horses, barely clad actors wearing horse-head masks designed by Ashley Eigenman and Eileen Beaver. The horses come and go; Nugget as the Equus/God is magnificently sensual and totally non-human.

Director David Garrison is both the artistic director and founder of The Alternative Arts Collective. He has assembled an impressive cast and staff of passionate artists. 

The ambitious undertaking from this upstart arts group follows on the heels of the TAAC production of ‘Angels in America’, in two parts; both ‘Millenium Approaches’ and ‘Perestroika’ were ably presented with a local cast.

The upcoming TAAC season is robust with productions of ‘Hamlet’ (with a mostly female cast), David Mamet’s ‘The Cryptogram”, several other well-know works, and an original play by Garrison.

"We choose work that is artistically complex," explained Garrison. "It challenges us, and the audience. You have to work for it.

"Our goal is to be non-competitive; we are interested in unifying the community through art."

Although TAAC is currently housed in an unlikely (and chilly) small theater in Royer Park in Roseville, negotiations have begun to move and expand the collective into a larger and more comfortable venue.

This fresh and energetic company deserves more audience and critical attention than it currently enjoys. Lovers of local theater will not want to miss this final weekend of ‘Equus’, and will want to keep a close eye on TAAC in the coming years.

 


‘Equus’ plays at the Royer Park Theater this Friday and Saturday, January 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the door or by contacting TAAC at (916) 538-8013, www.facebook.com/pages/The-Alternative-Arts-Collective or at taactheatre@gmail.com


photos by John Pek/Evek Studios

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