A stunning theatrical sensation comes to the stage at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, as Director Sherrionne Brown presents Peter Shaffer’s Equus. It’s a deeply moving psychological drama that explores a seventeen year old boy’s sexual and religious fascination with horses after he has blinded five of them and landed himself in a psychiatrist’s care. This production is by far the best show I have ever witnessed upon the Spotlighters’ stage; a Broadway quality production and performances – well-deserving of a standing ovation.
Jaw-dropping intricately formed silver horse heads and hooves provided by The American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco fall into Director Sherrionne Brown’s overall design of the production – creating these magnificent larger than life creatures that fill the space so immensely that it creates a truly stunning visual effect. The graceful elegance with which the actors move when embodying the horse characters create majestic beasts of almost mythical proportions that are suspended in a moment of captivating beauty – every time they step up onto the stage. Brown’s makes a unique directorial choice to keep all players not presently in the scene – hovering just on the edges of the play’s reality by seating them around the stage. This reminds us someone is always watching.
The most breathtaking moment of the production is a conceptual moment of art in the form of dance, imagined by Brown and then choreographed by Alani Harris. This ephemeral moment of utter awe is captured as the five horses slowly dance an entrancing dance at the center of the stage; a masterful moment of ballet alive with an ethereal beauty that floats as simply as air; leaving the audience as enthralled as Alan in this fleeting fancy. Together Harris and Brown create an ingenious approach to fully gratifying Alan’s first encounter of seeing the horses up close, letting that moment of sheer awe radiate out over the audience.
Brown’s ability to seamlessly align the time shifts of the production is astonishing. She uses meticulous blocking practices to flawlessly connect moments of actual existence in present time with memories and recollections while never having to hassle with scene changes or characters making elaborate entrances and exits. Brown’s vision allows memory and actuality to co-exist much like waves that crash upon the shore, overlapping and washing over one another in perfect harmony. And she has made impeccable casting choices.
The show itself has perfect execution; there is never a moment of hesitancy or uncertainty; every actor in place exactly as they should be with immaculate pacing and a decisive sense of emotional builds. Each character is deeply grounded in their own reality; making the struggles of their lives easily accessible to the audience, drawing us in deeper and deeper until it becomes our story and we’re wound so tightly with anticipation and compassion.
Standing upright with heads that nearly brush the ceiling are the horses (Ruta Dougla Smith, Megan Farber, Kevin Gordon, and Alani Harris). Leading this pack of impressive performers is Warren Smith in the role of Nugget, the favored horse. Warren’s posture is more erect, channeling a sense of pride and importance. When playing the Horseman that Alan first encounter he locks himself into a physicality that has your eyes nearly believing that he is a man astride the great beast, galloping across the sands of the beach. His eyes are focused, especially when playing Nugget, and you lose sight of the fact that he is a man baring a horse’s head; watching as he embodies the great equine with ease.
Filling in large dramatic moments of the production with their quarrelsome parenting are Dora (Kathryn Falcone) and Frank (Frank Vince) Each rooted in their own beliefs both Falcone and Vince give gripping performances during their moments of confrontation with both Alan and the Doctor. Falcone delivers a brutally intense monologue in the second act that stuns the audience into silence as every emotional restraint that she’s withheld until that point breaks free. An empowered moment of emotional turmoil that provides insight and depth into the way she relates to her son, highlighting in a sense how all mothers relate to their child when they fear failure on their part might be at hand.
A much kinder and more simplistic character is Hester (Karina Ferry). Acting as the voice of reason almost like the guiding spirit for the Doctor, Ferry is kind and slightly witty, giving a genuine performance with a soft feminine side to her portrayal that makes her matronly in her own right, despite her reservations and concerns. Ferry’s interactions with the Doctor occur naturally, the subtle hints of a romance that never could be bubbling beneath the surface of their discourse, making her character that much more interesting.
Jill (Kerry Brady) holding up the other heavy female role in the production is both tender and passionate. While being her own individual woman, Brady epitomizes the notion of all girls at that age keen on a young man who is just a little peculiar. Her flirtatious nature balances out moments of uncertainty when finally left alone with Alan and her interactions with him burble to the surface at the most basic level; actual raw emotion traveling between them encapsulated in simplistic stares and gestures; an impressive performance without having much stage time.
The performance gem comes from Alan (Thomas Bowers) shining like a beacon in the night; sheer raw talent that gives this character the emotional depth and turmoil truly needed to make this production the immense success that it is. Bowers is a natural when it comes to brooding and cloistering himself away; the bitter rage and distrust of his character caked in layers around his physicality, all gently melting away as the play progresses. He channels a myriad of emotions with great success, making his pain and his elation tangible for all to experience. There are moments that steal your breath away when Bowers first mounts Equus his state of euphoria so intense that it is mind-blowing.
Bowers drives the story and drives the narrator, Doctor Martin Dysart (Phil Gallagher). A sensational performer Gallagher becomes the audience’s guide to this story, trapped in his own darkness while trying to help retrieve Alan from the nightmares the plague him. Gallagher provides a spectacular balance in his character knowing exactly when to reel in his responses and reactions and when to put them out there full force. His performance is loaded with moments of intense vehemence, his emotional explosions rivaling those of Bowers; the pair making for one enormously thunderous eruption of feelings upon the stage. Together the two drive the truth of the story home for the audience in a shocking series of confessions and memories unfurled. Two more talented and stronger performers you will not find anywhere else but right here upon the Spotlighters stage.
I cannot repeat enough how truly sensational and utterly flawless Spotlighters’ Equus is. Every member of the cast is perfectly in synch with Brown’s vision. It’s an impeccable masterpiece that must be seen!
Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
Equus plays through May 5, 2013 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre – 817 North Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.