By Jay Van Dwingelen
Special to the Las Vegas Tribune
Equus probes deeply the crossbreeding of religious fanaticism, love of horses, and sexual maturation in the psyche of one over-sheltered boy. The NCT delivers a riveting performance that demands the constant focus of its audience to clearly understand what could motivate a 17-year-old boy to slash out the eyes of six horses as they stood helpless in their stable. The play is centered around the efforts of a psychiatrist to bring his patient to a state of self-understanding while at the same time establishing for the court that his actions were a freakish one-time event that did not justify his subsequent imprisonment to protect society from his future actions. Simultaneously, the play calls attention to many bizarre behaviors people adopt to cope with their broken lives rather than fixing them — ranging from knitting to pornography to fantasies of ancient times and gods. Todd Espeland, the director of the performance, notes this last larger theme in his notes in the program.
Chris Mayse delivers a compelling performance as Dr. Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist. Gerrad Taylor is equally effective as Alan Strang, the patient of Dr. Dysart, who so needs his help. These two characters provide the core of the play that the supporting characters enrich. The supporting cast includes: Jordan Bondurant as Alan’s father, Frank Strang; Dhyana Dahl as Alan’s mother, Dora Strang; Melissa Ritz as Hester Solomon, who convinces Dr. Dysart to take on the case in the first place; and Jade Payton as Jill Mason, Alan’s coworker and potential lover.
A huge engineering effort went into the set that initially appears to be simple and straightforward — until it begins to move, simulating the sensation of riding a horse as the trees fly by on either side. Credit goes to Devin Pierce Scheef for Scenic Design.
An eerie fog fills the stage through much of the performance, evoking images of Alan riding his horse at midnight naked through the mist.
Lighting is used effectively to center our attention on key characters throughout the performance. This focus is particularly important in this play since most of the cast sits on the set when not in use, like horses in a stable. Credit goes to Josh Wroblewski for his work as Lighting Designer for the performance. Credit for Costume Design goes to Mariya Radeva-Nedyalkova. The costumes for Alan’s parents were particularly outstanding and supported their conservative characters.
The play, Equus, has a long and rich history, dating back to the 1970s, when Richard Burton played the psychiatrist and Peter Firth played Alan Strang. They also both starred in a film version made in the 1970s as well. The part of Alan Strang has been played more recently by such other noteworthy actors as Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) in London and New York City, and Randy Harrison (best known for his work in the Showtime TV program, Queer as Folk). It’s challenging theater and a great delight to find it on stage here in Las Vegas.
Your time will be well spent taking in this fine performance. The play is very thought-provoking in its own right, and this cast and company have succeeded in bringing it to the stage of the Judy Bayley Theater in a form that is both gripping and effective. For more information and show times, visit nct.unlv.edu. Performances are scheduled for March 14, 15, 16, and 17.