WOOSTER, Ohio — The College of Wooster will present Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play “Equus” Oct. 25-27 at 8:15 p.m. in Freedlander Theatre (329 E. University St.). Tickets, which go on sale Oct. 17, are $9 for general admission and $6 for senior citizens, faculty, and staff. College of Wooster students are admitted free of charge but must reserve their tickets in advance.
“Equus,” Greek for horse, is based on the true story of a 17-year-old boy who blinded six horses near Suffolk. In this fictional account of what led up to that event, the boy, Alan, lives in a state of extreme worship of a self-created god that manifests itself in the form of a horse. The story of Alan is the mechanism through which the real story within the play is told — that of the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, who treats Alan. Shirley Huston-Findley, director of the play and associate professor of theatre and dance at Wooster, says that despite the sensationalism surrounding Alan, “It really is Dysart’s story; he finds himself in the midst of a personal and professional crisis.”
The play’s central question, according to Huston-Findley, is “how do we come to terms with comprehending the complexities of life, love, and the desire for human contact and understanding?” She adds that she hopes the audience will consider the complexities of human relationships, self-fulfillment and awareness, and empathy for others while watching the play away from the muddle of their daily lives.
Lurking within the production is a religious tension between Alan and his mother, who is very devout, as well as his father, who is an atheist. He takes on the sins of his parents and attempts to reconcile their differences while at the same time rejecting their constricted definition of how to live life. Alan’s concept of God is spawned by the Old Testament. “He manifests his own god out of these bits and pieces,” says Huston-Findley, who describes the play as “very theatrical” and a “psychological mystery.”
The result of Alan’s extreme worship of his horse god(s) is that it removes him from a sense of reality, and when he commits what he thinks is a sin, the only way he can escape punishment and break free from his god’s control is by blinding them, thus taking away their powers of constant judgmental sight.
The challenge of staging a play like this lies in how time and place are represented, according to Huston-Findley. The play occurs within a “constant state of dreamlike memory that fluctuates between that and reality,” she says. The script does not follow a chronological timeline, but instead skips between the present of Alan and Dysart in the doctor’s office, and the past of Alan’s journey that led to the stabbing of the horses.
The portrayal of the horses is another challenge in that the actors will not be acting like horses, but rather will be wearing masks that capture the essence of their character. This — and other elements of the production — establishes connections with Greek theatre in terms of Pagan ritual. “There is a sense of ritual and ceremony that we are trying to embrace,” says Huston-Findley.
Senior David Grunfeld (Martin Dysart) and first-year Noah Hibbard (Alan Strang) have the two lead roles. They are joined by senior Emily Mitchell (Dora Strang), junior Alex Dereix (Hesther Salomon), sophomores Colin Martin (Frank Strang) and Eliza Somsel (Nurse), and first-years Abigail Helvering (Jill Mason), Jacob Beckstead (Harry Dalton), and Elliot Ferrier (Horseman/Nugget). Rounding out the cast are the five horses, represented by sophomores Erika Daun, Patrick McWilliams, Adam Seligson, and Nora Yawitz, along with first-year Phoebe Benya.
For additional information, or to order tickets, call 330-263-2241.
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