Engage your Mind at Inclineâ€™s Provocative Equus
Review by Laurel Humes of Equus: Incline Theatre
Be sure to take a thinking person with you to Warsaw Federal Incline Theatreâ€™s production of Equus. You are going to want to discuss this play!
The premise is established early: A 17-year-old boy has blinded six horses with a metal stake. But this is not a random act of cruelty. The play â€“ and Inclineâ€™s compelling production â€“ is devoted to psychiatric digging into why he did it.
The play unfolds in acted-out flashback scenes during sessions
between psychiatrist Dr. Dysart (Michael Douglas Hall) and Alan (Christopher Carter). The nondescript boy is the only child of wildly diverse parents. Mother (Martha Slater) is deeply religious and indulgent to Alan. Father (Rory Sheridan) is atheist and a rigid disciplinarian.
Each parent contributes to the story line in their own revelations to Dr. Dysart. But, in a standout scene from Slater, they refuse to take responsibility.
We know what youâ€™re thinking, she tells Dr. Dysart, â€œwhatever happened is our fault. Itâ€™s not our fault. Itâ€™s the devil,â€ inside her son.
At the same time, Dr. Dysart is struggling with his own internal demons: professional doubts, a loveless marriage. As he gets Alan to reveal more and more about his secret near-religious devotion to horses and the events that led to the maiming, the doctor actually expresses envy of the boy.
â€œHe has lived a passion. Iâ€™m jealous of him,â€ Dysart says. Psychiatry can â€œfixâ€ Alan, but what will be left without passion?
The entire cast of Equus, directed by Greg Procaccino, is excellent. But the show does belong to the duel between Hallâ€™s Dysart and Carterâ€™s Alan, as the doctor works to get past the young patientâ€™s locked-down exterior.
Carter nails the adolescent persona, with a high-pitched, petulant voice and emotional mood swings. He builds his character successfully to the powerful climatic scene.
Hallâ€™s portrayal is equally strong, although limited to the confines of a staid, sometimes grumpy professional. We watch has he, too, builds his character to an understanding of his own unhappiness.
Inclineâ€™s Equus set of wooden beams suggests horse stables, and the â€œhorsesâ€ wear stylized masks, with all other props imaginary and skillfully mimed. Even so, the climactic scene is made so realistically horrifying with sound effects and lighting that I had to close my eyes.
It must also be mentioned that Equus contains a scene played entirely nude by Carter and romantic interest Jill (a very good Hannah Gregory). The nudity is hardly gratuitous, but essential to the plot.
So: Are horses Alanâ€™s gods? Can false gods lead us to commit horrible acts? Can psychiatry (and psychiatric drugs) make us all â€˜normal,â€™ and at what cost?
Equus continues at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theater (Incline District, East Price Hill) through April 23. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.