Stellar Cast Delves in Drama of “Equus”

Near perfection. That is what the Irish Classical Theatre has achieved in their exciting new production of Peter Shaffer’s EQUUS.

Shaffer’s poignant and often unsettling drama about a troubled teenager who commits an unspeakable act against horses can be difficult to process and to watch. The story relates how the teen is committed to a mental hospital in order to ascertain what demons lie in his psyche. The psychiatrist Martin Dysart is given the near impossible job of treating him. Director David Oliver has assembled such a fine cast that inarguably I would not consider changing it in any way.

The standout performance of P.J. Tighe as the teenager Alan Stang must be singled out. Tighe is called upon to brood, rant, cry, laugh and in general be nasty. He is utterly brilliant in instilling this often unlikable character with a personality that begs the audience for more. Mr. Tighe’s nuanced portrayal lends such a depth of emotions that by the climax of first act you believe he may not have any more to give, but he surely does. His rawness and vulnerability ultimately makes perfect sense based on the back story of his childhood. The brilliance of Shaffer’s script is such that the audience becomes totally invested in learning more about the deeply troubled character of Alan, without writing him off as a simple social deviant. Tighe’s masterful journey of psychological exploration is sure to go down as a highlight of this theatrical season!

Stage veteran Vincent O’Neill portrays Martin as an overworked troubled middle aged man whose own demons often parallel Alan’s. O’Neill was utterly believable in his transition from clinical psychiatrist to man on a mission to probe and decipher the reasons for the boy’s behavior. The dramatic clinical sessions between O’Neill and Tighe ventured from conversation to gut wrench full blown re-enactments of Alan’s past.

The secondary roles of the Alan’s parents were beautifully handled by Gregory Gjurich and Margaret Massman. Ms. Massman’s subtle characterization of a heartbroken mother who has little understanding of her son’s condition was poignant and believable. Her naivete, based on her deep religious beliefs, fueled Mr. Gjurich’s frustration at dealing with a wife whose actions he understand very little. The play’s undertones of sexual repression and religion are firmly rooted in the lives of these two parents.

Wendy Hall, is the judge Hester Salomon who brings Alan to the psychiatrist. Ms. Hall’s desperation to help the boy was palpable and she proved to be a great resource in helping Dysart fight his own demons of his personal life. Hall’s calmness and civility were a nice contrast to the insanity that occurred in the hospital ward.

Oliver’s imaginative staging was complemented by David Dwyer’s highly effective turntable set. Oliver has chosen to seat the entire cast on the periphery of the set, suggesting that the entire cast is always present in the action and ultimately the boys’ subconscious. Lighting designer Brian Cavanagh has created some of the best lighting effects that have been seen at ICTC, subtly dealing with the intimacy and heights of the drama with finesse.

Any production of EQUUS relies on some depiction of the horses that are so central to the story. Costume designer Ann Emo has designed representative horse heads and horse shoes that suggest the structure of the horses, without being too literal. Movement choreographer Gerry Trentham has obviously spent a great deal of time working with the talented 5 men who portray the horses. Their interactions with the boy were fascinating in depicting the sexual tension that builds between the boy and the horses.

The intimacy of the theatre in round auditorium at Irish Classical Theatre makes this riveting play all the more encompassing for the audience. Such a polished production as this EQUUS should have audiences baited and ready for ICTC’s January production of Shaffer’s AMADEUS with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra– featuring Tighe yet again as Mozart.

Review by Michael Rabice |