Peter Shaffer's "Equus," with its mix of sexuality, obsession, religion and nudity is not an easy play to watch, neither comforting nor uplifting. So FantasyLand Theatrical Productions, which opened the Pointe Performing Arts Center last summer, deserves credit for going beyond safe, oft-seen works to try something edgier.
Director Lowrie Fawley deserves credit, too, for staging a show that if a bit uneven, is frequently compelling, told with unflagging energy that keeps the audience's attention flitting between disturbed young Alan Strang and Martin Dysart, the doctor who is treating him.
England, opens with a horrifying revelation: A teen boy has, for no apparent reason, gruesomely blinded six horses. Key to keeping the audience engaged is Shaffer's script, which spins out as a mystery — why did he do it? — while also using the case to highlight Dr. Dysart's inner demons.
Fawley was smart to keep things simple, underlying the torrent of words that tumble from Dysart, who also serves as narrator of sorts. The large stage at The Pointe is boxed in by horse stalls with some wooden hitching posts hung with chains adding a tinge of disquiet. Two benches serve as couches in the doctor's office, a sales counter, a movie theater.
The room where Alan stays while at the psychiatric hospital is a simple bed to the side.
Clear, effective lighting directs attention around the stage, especially striking when Shaffer frequently has his characters speak over one another to the audience from different locations.
Even the horses are depicted simply. The original production, which won the 1975 Tony for best play, used metallic headgear on actors to suggest the horses, as did a recent revival that made headlines for starring "Harry Potter" actor Daniel Radcliffe as Alan.
Part of those headlines were because of Radcliffe's extended nude scene, a scene that is appropriately re-created in this production.
But the production stumbles with its character accents. The varying attempts at sounding British create a mishmash of inconsistent dialects that get in the way of the play's emotions. Inexplicably, Adam Pate as Alan, is the only character to speak in an American accent, which occasionally becomes a distraction in itself when he's surrounded by faux Brits. It also begs the question of why everyone didn't use an American accent; although the play is set in Britain, there's nothing intrinsically "British" about the plot.
As Alan's parents, Jim Cundiff and Joanne van Zyl seem particularly hampered by the Brit-speak. They display the quirks that influenced Alan's upbringing, but the anguish any parent would feel at having such a disturbed child seems strangely swallowed.
Barbara Logan, as a kindly magistrate who takes an interest in Alan's case, fares much better and with her glances and light touches, adds a layer of emotion — longing? regret? — to her relationship with Dysart.
As Dysart, Travis Eaton is onstage the entire show and his energy propels the plot forward. He brings tightly coiled anger and a touch of bitterness to the doctor's doubt-filled musings, creating sharp contrast with his eager professional manner as he becomes increasingly intrigued with Alan.
Pate's Alan keeps an intriguing air of detachment in his voice, whether answering "yes, yes, yes" in rapid succession to a litany of questions or singing mindless TV jingles. But his eyes are always brightly focused, keeping him firmly connected to the characters around him. And a touch of sadness in his manner creates a reason to care about this damaged human being.
Like Dysart, you'll want to see his case through to the end.
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See for yourself
•What: FantasyLand Theatrical Productions presentation of 'Equus,' a drama by Peter Schaffer
•When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through March 20
•Where: The Pointe Performing Arts Center, 9101 International Drive, Orlando
•Tickets: $20 general; $15 seniors and students; $35 with meal and parking package
•Note: Because of adult themes and full nudity, no one younger than 18 is admitted
Theater review: 'Equus' from FantasyLand Theatrical Productions
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