Busking at the Seams: Review of Equus

Actor’s Express always has a knack for taking on Broadway’s best, putting them in a small theater in our beloved Atlanta, and giving New York a serious run for the title of queen of the stage. For their production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, running till April 21, they took the crown. The scene design, by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay, was mesmerizing, artful and added to the impact. The acting was emotionally full, completely honest and endeared the audience to these realistically complicated characters. The direction, by David Crowe, was perfection. Choice  after choice after choice fueled the themes within this show and kept the audience enthralled and enraptured by a story that even the characters knew would turn people’s stomaches.

Equus tells the story of Alan Strang (Kyle Brumley), a teenage boy, who has blinded six horses in a stable he worked at, and his psychiatrist, Martin Dysart (Chris Kayser), who is trying to figure out why. The large overlapping themes throughout are religion and sex and the confusion, that if mixed together, both can create. The audience goes through the frustration and moments of realization that Dysart experiences as more information about the brutal night are revealed. We see the break down of both Strang’s penned in motives, fears and psychosis, and Dysart’s beliefs that he can cure, protect and make all children better, as well as his internal and personal battles belonging to the same themes as Strang’s.

Can I just take a moment to say brav-freaking-o to Chris Kayser. His performance as Dysart was unbearably believable. The deep-seated emotions that fueled his external performance were the most genuine I have seen in a very long time. This was a play filled with actors who understood the subtext of what they were saying and the impact of that is huge. His was one of many performances that will linger in my mind for a very long time and push Atlanta theater to a whole new peg. Kathleen Wattis, who played Hesther Saloman, the woman who brought this case to Dysart’s attention and his office, was so incredibly subtle with her reactions to harsh realities and uncomfortable situations I wanted to scream with glee every time her expression spelled out so much more than what was coming from her mouth. And of course, Kyle Brumley’s performance as Stang was creepy, but in a complex fashion where fear, outside influences and simple naivety have created a child monster with a soul. The standing ovation was deserved and mandatory for what these actors poured from themselves onto the stage.

These actors could have stood on a blank stage and still pulled this show off fully. But, the set and costume design that sister designers, Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay, put forth was one of those creations that doesn’t just add spacial elements and allow the actors to place themselves, it added drama, intrigue and mindfulness. The masks that the actors wore for the horses were amazing structures of what looked like crafted leather, metal and twine to shape the nose, mane and facial structures of the beautiful beast. The hooves that the actors adorned were realistic, yet continued a mystical touch that the masks started, and created the metronome like clomp as if the true being were on stage. The stage was simple with benches set up like a place of worship, and the large screen that covered the back wall adorned the ink blot that resembles a horses face dead on, further weaving in the big elements of this show, psychiatry and the power of horses. The capabilities of this seemingly simplistic set did what great concepts do, adds to the unfolding of the story and makes audience member’s hearts pound a little bit quicker.

Equus at Actor’s Express is filled with all of the things that make you shout yes for theater’s sake. Humor breaks the tension, heart eases the fear, and beauty kindles it all. For ticket information and show times, visit actors-express.com.

*Previously published on Buskingattheseams.wordpress.com, March 2013.

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