Recent productions of Peter Shaffer's Equus have been carbon copies of the 1973 premiere. So when Stephen Rayne was selected to direct the show for the Alley Theatre, he thought it was time for another interpretation. Most of the play's action takes place in a mental hospital as psychiatrist Martin Dysart probes for the cause of a boy's apparently barbaric blinding of stable horses. Historically, directors have for some reason placed these scenes in dark settings; Rayne prefers to drop his characters into institutional white scenery. Peter Lobdell, who has done many versions of the play since he directed the movement of "horses" in the original Broadway production, also noted that this was one of the first times he had been asked to change the choreography.
The play has a new focus as well. In the '70s, the psychiatrist's struggle over the morality of correcting the unique worldview of this supposedly aberrant boy was seen as a critique of the psychiatric profession. For Rayne, a Brit born in Africa, this questioning of normalization has a more modern connection: the current "gentrification of society." "I've traveled a lot, and I'm appalled at how you can go to Tel Aviv in Israel and you could be in Miami. It's unbelievable how American it is .You cannot go anywhere and escape McDonald's."
Shaffer is a playwright known for writing accessible plays about serious subjects, and Equus is, above all else, an engaging philosophical thriller. That's okay by Rayne. "As long as by the end of the evening, as well as providing two hours of entertainment and provocation, people can leave questioning their own aspirations and desires in this very consumeristic society they're living in."
Equus previews Friday and Saturday, January 12 and 13, at 8 p.m.; Sunday and Tuesday, January 14 and 16, at 7:30 p.m. $19-$35. Opening night is Wednesday, January 17, at 7:30 p.m. Through February 10. Showtimes are Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. $32-$49. For more information, call (713)228-8421.
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