Open Circle's 'Equus' is compelling

October 18, 1990|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

An equestrian god dwelling in the dark recesses of a disturbed boy's mind forms the framework for Peter Shaffer's powerful play, "Equus," being presented by students of Goucher College's Open Circle Theatre.

Suggested by a real life incident, Shaffer's work opened in New York in 1975 to critical acclaim and earned a Tony and other major awards. Surrealistic in nature it is a dangerous and philosophical journey into the mysteries of the psyche.

Excellently directed by Michael Simon Curry, the play on one level is pure intellectual food for provocative thought as a psychiatrist pursues the "why" in the case of Alan, a 17-year-old boy who has cruelly blinded six horses. On another level it is an exploration of mythological fantasy compounded by the troubled psychiatrist who finds the lives of the Greek gods considerably more interesting than his own dull existence.

He looks upon himself as a sort of ancient high priest who has "killed" the spirit of those children he has treated to allow them to exist in the so-called normal world. His dilemma is if he exorcises the demon within the boy he destroys a passion that has reached heights and realms beyond his own wildest dreams.

The play is set in the psychiatric clinic with frequent flashbacks to the barn where the horses are housed.

At first Alan is sullen and defiant. He hates his parents, an overly strict and hypocritical father and a fanatically religious mother. Seeking freedom in fantasy and feeling the need to create his own god, Alan finds in the horses the spirit of Equus, the deity that represents his life force.

As the tormented and raging Alan, Paul Reyes turns in a superb performance. His development of character and motivation is flawless. Martin Dysart as the psychiatrist is intensely believable. But Dysart raced his lines, staying on one level too much without variation.

Stefan Tournquist and Lucia Bowes are fine as Alan's parents. Desiree Care is outstanding as a young girl trying to seduce Alan. Jennifer Spieler is a warm, caring nurse.

Fred Ebert designed the haunting masks. "Equus" will continue with performances on Oct. 26 and 27.

Towson production

At Towson State University a first-rate student production of William Hanley's "Slow Dance on the Killing Ground" is being staged through Saturday. On the whole it is well directed by guest artist, Robert DeFrank, but there is still need for more purposeful movement.

Three people are trapped by their own dreadful secrets in a confectionary store late at night. Guilt and despair is the name of the game. The owner is a German and former Communist who abandoned his Jewish wife and son to the Nazis. An 18-year-old hostile black man, with an IQ of 187 and a "hole" in his heart, talks the jive jargon of the streets (a pose) as he seeks temporary sanctity from the police. A young, pregnant student has lost her way to the abortion clinic.

All play out their fateful destiny. Fortunately the play has a humorous framework that lays the groundwork for the strong dramatic moments. An exceptional performance is given by Mark Gallop as the cocky, mocking young man who has committed an unforgivable crime.

Andrea Joy Shrem delights as the funny yet sad Bronx student. (( Brandon Welch is believable as the old German but needs to age more in facial and physical makeup.

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