It’s clear why stage companies are still turning to Peter Shaffer’s “Equus” 20 years after its premiere. This stylized drama is not only a showpiece for a tightly knit ensemble of talented actors; it’s also a tremendously effective piece of theater.
Neither the characterizations nor the themes go very deep; this play’s pleasures lie pretty much on the surface. But director Jules Aaron and the West Coast Ensemble polish that often-stunning surface until it shines.
The story concerns Alan Strang, a lad from the English countryside who blinds six horses one night in a wild rage. As a psychiatrist wallowing his way through a midlife crisis of epic porportions tries to discover the reasons for the rampage, he simultaneously confronts the passionless nature of his own existence.
Aaron’s production is a virtual carbon copy of the original, from the stark set to the metal horse heads worn by actors who mimic the movement of the animals. We’ve seen it all before. And yet, it’s been some time since we’ve seen it done with such subtlety and attention to nuance.
As the therapist, Ian Buchanan has a wonderfully rich voice and properly world-weary manner. While Jack Noseworthy as Alan and Rajia Baroudi as a girl who attempts to seduce him strip naked on stage, he seems to strip himself naked emotionally, expressing his character’s grief and sorrow with an almost frightening intensity.
The supporting cast is, for the most part, equally superb. Noseworthy and Baroudi never strike a single false note, and Frank Ashmore and Gammy Singer are both monstrous and touchingly vulnerable as Alan’s defensive, bewildered parents.