Sunday, May 20, 2018

Meet the Characters: Beasts of the Stable

In the original production of Equus in London, the stage was set up in a way that allowed audience members to sit on stage. The recent NYC revival also did this. I did not have the honor of seeing either production (I'm a bit too young for the first in 1973) but I did recently see another play, Good for Otto, in NYC. Good for Otto is a play set in a community mental health center and, like Equus, audience members are sitting on stage with the actors. The experience of sitting on the stage made me feel like a part of the community. It gave me the sensation of being in some sort of meeting with the characters. I almost felt like after their scenes it would be my turn to share my own issues. It was a remarkable experience.

Equus is also set in a mental health facility. I can't help but imagine that sitting on the stage would give the audience member a sense of being in a surgical gallery...Watching from above as the Doctor dissects his patient's illness. Of course, having audience members on stage can cause certain problems. Daniel Radcliffe played the role of Alan on Broadway and he describes audience members trying to talk to him and even propositioning him from their on-stage position. At PBD, the plan had been to seat audience members on stage but the fire marshall, unfortunately, put an end to that ambition. The permits alone would have cost thousands.

We may not have on-stage audience members but every member of the cast remains onstage for almost the entire play. At five minutes to 'curtain', the actors begin to enter along with the audience. We mill about and take up our positions behind the playing space. We observe the action until we pop up and enter it. I have had the great privilege of watching the amazing work being done by my fellow actors from the start of rehearsals through the end of the run. I encourage you to come experience this wonderful play with us. Let me introduce you to the beasts of this stable, the characters, and I hope to see you on the Psych ward soon!


Dr. Martin Dysart (Peter Simon Hilton)
Dr. Dysart is on the verge of what he calls "professional menopause." He wonders desperately whether he has helped anyone and whether even one moment of his life has been spent well. Alan enters Dysart's 'torture chamber' at a time when Dysart is doubting his place in the world. How can he handle the Patient's pain when he can barely put one foot in front of the other with confidence?

"I need - more desperately than my children need me - a way of seeing in the dark."


Alan Strang (Steven Maier)
Everyone in Equus is dealing with their own demons. Alan's are so present and powerful that they invade every part of his being. His mother gave him Jesus but he saw Equus and he has given himself over completely to that worship. His obsession is honest and passionate but ultimately destructive. Now, Alan grasps blindly at Dysart's ability to "pull him out of the nightmare he galloped himself into."

"Every time I heard one clop by, I had to run and see. Up a country lane or anywhere. They sort of pulled me."


Dora Strang (Julie Rowe)
Dora was a teacher before Alan was born but gave it up to answer the greatest love that God could bestow upon her - a child. She is significantly religious but she married a man who is significantly an atheist and they've had major differences of opinion on how to raise their child. She has genuinely no idea why her son, the child she loved and cared for with everything she had to give, has done this terrible thing. She wrestles with a crisis of faith and the weight of responsibility for who Alan has become.

"I only know he was my little Alan, and then the Devil came."


Frank Strang (John Leonard Thompson)
Alan's father is a hard-working, irreverent man of the earth. His wife defends him as a good father who cares for his family but it's clear he's had trouble communicating with his only son. Open emotions aren't in his nature. Alan has always been a "weird lad" in his father's opinion. Now, the awful thing Alan did has laid all of Frank's shortcomings bare.

"He was always mooning over religious pictures. I mean real kinky ones, if you receive my meaning. I had to put a stop to it once or twice."


Hesther Salomon (Anne-Marie Cusson)

Hesther offers an emotional counterpart to Dysart. She stands out as a woman in a primarily male world. The male playwright has written a woman who is sure and stalwart and a man who is emotional and unpredictable. She is both compassionate with and unswervingly demanding of her friend the Doctor.

"Hesther. I suppose one of the few things one can do is simply hold on to priorities.
Dysart. Like what?
Hesther. Oh...children before grownups."


Jill Mason (Mallory Newbrough)
Jill is the one who introduced Alan to the stable where he works. She is a young woman of her time - ambitious in her search for adventure and experience. She's drawn to Alan's cagey-ness but she really has no idea what she's getting herself into. Jill almost manages to get Alan to grow up and place his worship someplace healthy. She almost provides him with a healthy reaction to emotional trauma. She almost reaches him. Almost.

"Jill. There was an article in the paper last week saying what points about boys fascinate girls...I think it's eyes every time...They fascinate you too, don't they?
Alan. Me?
Jill. Or is it only horse's eyes?"


Harry Dalton (Steve Carroll)
Dalton reminds the audience and the Doctor that Alan's act was not a victimless crime. It knocks some sense back into Dysart. Alan's unbridled worship destroyed something that Dalton loves. Who gets to decide when to kill someone else's passion?

"I tell you, this thing has shaken me so bad, I'm liable to believe anything."


Meredith Bartmon - Me!
The Nurse reminds us that we are in a Hospital. When the Doctor or the Patient get too bogged down in their own inner worlds she enters and puts things back in motion, no nonsense.

"You'll have a much better time of it here, you know if you behave yourself."


Dominic Servidio
Early on, Alan tells the story of the first time he ever saw a horse. The horse itself was huge and the man who was riding gave Alan a lot of the vocabulary for his obsession. The man on the horse is so innocuous that he doesn't get a name and yet something snapped together at that moment for Alan. Years later Alan still tells his horse-god to "bear me away!"

"Horseman. Do you want to go faster?
Alan. Yes!
Horseman. O.K. All you have to do is say 'Come on, Trojan - bear me away!'"


Dominic Servidio - Nugget, Frank Vomero, Robert Richards, Jr., Austin Carroll, Nick Lovalvo
The spectre of the great horse's head haunts both Alan and Dysart. It stares out of the darkness demanding to be acknowledged.

"Hesther. He blinded five horses with a metal spike."

Come see Equus by Peter Shaffer at Palm Beach Dramaworks from May 18th - June 3rd. Call the box office at 561 514 4042 or visit for more information.

Directed by J. Barry Lewis
Lighting Design by Kirk Bookman
Costume Design by Franne Lee
Set Design by Anne Mundell
Sound Design by Steve Shapiro
Photo Credit: Alicia Donelan, Samantha Mighdoll
Poster Design: Frank Verlizzo

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