Cadence Theatre’s ‘Equus’ will provoke and anger
Mesmerizing and haunting, Peter Shaffer’s masterfully-crafted script, Equus, was exquisitely rendered by the Cadence Theatre Company in partnership with Virginia Rep and in association with VCU Dance and Amaranth Contemporary Dance Company.
With uniformly superb acting from the horses/chorus [Kevin Carroll, Steele Goldman, Jamar Jones, Evan Nasteff, and Matt Shofner], the Horseman/Nugget [Charley Raintree] and the show’s supporting characters, Nurse [Gray Garrett], Hesther [Jessi Johnson], Jill [Mclean Jesse], Dalton [Christopher Dunn], Dora [Lauren Leinhaas-Cook] and Frank [Larry Cook] to the show’s main characters, Dysart [David Bridgewater] and Alan [Jacob Pennington] and under Anna Johnson’s superb direction and Scott Puttman’s lyrical and nuanced choreography this production of Equus is elevated to the transcendent and sublime.
Equus’s complex themes of religious and ritual sacrifice, personal theology, and the conflict between personal values and societal expectations are made most profound in their simplest form, the story of a disillusioned psychiatrist, Dysart and his relationship with the deeply disturbed Alan. At 17, Alan has escaped life imprisonment for a heinous crime by being relegated to the Rockeby Psychiatric Hospital in Southern England under Dysart’s care.
When social worker Hesther comes to Dysart with “just one more” case for him to take on – Alan’s – Dysart confesses his existential crisis to her – of the ‘why am I here?’ nature – but agrees to take on the child.
He has a gift for rescuing lost souls, and this one last case might just be the one that rescues his own.
Alan’s pathological obsession with horses, including his deification of a particular horse as Godhead, challenges the doctor’s sense of purpose. The mysteries of the boy who sneaks into the stables where he gallops on the horse in the dark of night turns Dysart’s world on end.
He becomes reluctant to rob the boy of his passion.
Envying the boys’ joy – even if pathological – Dysart ruminates on his part in Alan’s healing,
“He’ll be delivered from madness. What then? He’ll feel himself acceptable! What then? Do you think feelings like his can be simply re-attached, like plasters? Stuck on to other objects we select? Look at him! … My desire might be to make this boy an ardent husband – a caring citizen – a worshipper of abstract and unifying God. My achievement, however, is more likely to make a ghost!”
Dysart recognizes that perhaps rather than healing, he is doing harm. He bemoans, “Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.”
The staging and costuming take on the form of a Greek tragedy in which the chorus don the large steel masks embodying Alan’s beloved horses and serving as stagehands between scenes. The chorus also performs the dance elements that precede the two acts, symbolizing the beauty and playful abandon of horses at play.
The “noise of a tortured mind” is created by the actors, who, even when not in scene, sit stone-faced at the edge of the stage to show their constant presence in the boy’s psyche.
Equus is complex and disturbing. It will provoke and anger, shock and horrify. It will move and sadden.
And it will linger in my subconscious thoughts for longer than its run at Virginia Rep’s Theatre Gym.
The show contains full nudity and is recommended for individuals 18 and over. It runs through November 28.
Top image - Charley Raintree and Jacob Pennington in Equus by Peter Shaffer. Photo by Jason Collins Photography
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
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