Gods and monsters
Royer Park190 Park Dr.
Roseville, CA 95678
We make our gods where we can find them, or else we surrender to the gods that are forced upon us. Either way, as we see in Equus, gods can quickly become monstrous, and we probably won’t be terribly happy about what ensues. That’s the message Peter Shaffer gives us in his well-known and controversial 1973 play, which may be based on a real event—even the playwright’s not sure. Equus is heady stuff in its examination of the horrific, but not necessarily in the way we might expect.
A young man, Alan (Zack Myers), has been committed by the courts to a psychiatric hospital—and into the care of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Spierto)—because he blinded four horses with a hoof pick. But Alan’s not your typical sociopath, and Dysart, who is in the throes of a midlife (and midcareer) crisis, is determined to find the roots of his crime. He knows it’s probably psychosexual in origin, but Dysart unravels Alan’s religious relationship with horses even as he fears what it will reveal about his own beliefs.
Myers is very good as Alan, with a wary and suspicious manner around other people; he also projects a physical vulnerability that makes him seem more boyish than his age suggests. Myers makes it very easy to develop sympathy for Alan, in spite of the violence we know he’s capable of enacting.
An able supporting cast—including Sandy Phillips as a magistrate and Bob Nannini and Hazel Stream as Alan’s parents—remains onstage but shrouded in shadow unless their presence is required. The four horses, played in mask and elevated hooflike shoes by Victoria Timoteo, Jacob Woods, Kaleb Knieriem and Jason Rodriguez, are nothing short of wonderful in their physicality and grace, especially the head tosses.
But the show really belongs to Spierto as the psychiatrist, and he owns it. His Dysart is frustrated, full of half-acknowledged desire and repressed longing. The attachment he develops to Alan is built of his wish to help the boy, but battered by the lack of passion in his own life and his belief that he cannot give Alan a god to replace the one that must be erased. Spierto makes Dysart believable as a man searching for a reason to believe that his life and work have meaning—and dreading that no such reason will be found.
Spierto also designed the lighting and served as technical director, which makes his accomplishment in this production even more noteworthy. Aside from a slight overuse of the fog machine, the technical aspects were note perfect. Equus has a well-done set with clean lines and a rotating center stage that makes it possible for the horses to “gallop” when required.
David Garrison, who directed this production, is the artistic director at The Alternative Arts Collective, the Roseville company that is turning a children’s art center in Royer Park into a destination for serious theater. This is an extremely well-done community production, worthy of the short drive up Interstate 80 to the Douglas Boulevard west exit.