Monday, November 2, 2015

Equus—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

Seeking Normal

This intense drama is written by Peter Shaffer and directed by Ty & Cassandra Boice.  It is playing at their space in the Sellwood area of Portland, 1666 SE Lambert St., through November 15th.  For more information, go to their site at

This was made into a film some years ago with Richard Burton in the lead but loses some of the impact because it pictures it in a realistic way.  Part of the power of the story is how the boy sees his own reality in symbolic and expressionistic ways, dealing with the inner workings of the imagination and human psyche in interpreting reality.  In this way, the stage is a much more powerful tool to relate this tale.

Although the story is told through the psychiatrist’s eyes, Dysart (Todd Van Voris), it is really also the boy’s, Alan Strang’s (Phillip Berns) perceptions, as seen through the Doctor, which then, may actually differ from reality.  And, of course, we are all products of our upbringing and, thus, his zealously religious mother, Dora (Catherine Melo) and strict, atheistic father, Frank (Tony Green) are, in part, responsible for how the boy turns out.  The possibly that he is simply the product of a “bad seed,” and that nothing could be done to change that, is pretty preposterous.

A doctor’s job, to put it simplistically, is to take away pain and give a person as normal a life as possible.  But his job, according to his oath, is to “first, do no harm.”  Ah, “therein, lies the rub.”  How does one define, “normal” and what would be considered, doing “harm?”  Does “normal” meaning going along with how the majority of people see the world and using that as a basis?  And if you take away pain, does that really mean you have done “no harm?”  This is the dilemma that Dysart faces, as we all do through our journeys in Life.

Alan has been sent to him by his caring friend, a magistrate, Hester (Jill Westerby Gonzales) who, rather than passing legal judgment on this teen, who has blinded six horses, wants Dysart to discover the reason for this bizarre behavior and “take away his pain.”  Dysart, overworked and dealing with a failed marriage himself, agrees, maybe feeling that more work will ease the numbness of his personal life.  And so the two confront each other and their own fears.

The doctor certainly has some “tricks” to get the boy to talk, like playing games, using hypnosis, interviewing the parents, giving the boy a recorder to transmit his thoughts, and finally, a “truth” session.  He interviews the parents, gets feedback from Alan’s nurse (Mariel Sierra), and former boss, Dalton (James Dixon), hears about the horseman (Murren Kennedy) that introduced Alan to horses and about a possible girlfriend, the free-spirited, Jill (Olivia Weiss), at the stable in which he worked.

Through it all, there is the figure of Nugget (Ethan LaFrance), Alan’s favorite horse, who seems to hover on the sidelines, like a ghostly figure, nudging the process onward.  He finally devises a way to get the truth of what happened that night from him but the results are not what he expected and may be more horrifying than what he imagined!  For more of the story, you must see it.

A little more fodder for your fertile brains, mythology has characters, like a Satyr and Pan, that are half-man, half-beast and usually involved with fertility and sexuality.  Also ancient tribes, who had no knowledge of horses, upon seeing soldiers on horseback, thought they were one animal and worship them as gods.  These factors do play as ingredients to the story.

This production is powerful and gripping!  It hold no bars, as it steamrolls you from its delicate   beginning to it shattering conclusion.  The Boices’ have outdone themselves on an almost bare stage with several locations to create a reality that is solely within your imagination.  And the important part of this equation is a superb cast that willingly hops aboard this psychic locomotive to another space in an altered time.  The play asks the all-important question, perhaps, if we take away a crucial element of a person’s psyche, however well-intended, shouldn’t we be replacing it with something equally relevant?  Again, the conclusion of the story is a question…we are the answer!

All of the cast is powerful in their portrayals but the bulk of it rests on Van Voris and Berns and they are more than up to the task of offering us a feast for the senses!  Berns, a company member from the beginning and in many of their productions, is outstanding as the boy in question.  His body movements, facial expressions, intonations, haunting eyes, all conspire to suck you into his world of deep distress (or are we being pulled out of our self-same world?).  His kinetic performance is mesmerizing and he deserves all the accolades one can muster for a riveting delve into the mind.

Van Voris is so good in this (and, quite frankly, in everything he performs) that you feel he is speaking with authority in this field and that his search for truth is gospel.  He is no longer an actor on the stage but is fully immersed in the character he portrays.  His booming voice not only can stop you in your tracks but also quavers, so that you see/hear the vulnerability underneath, creeping up on his reserved front.  He blesses us every time he “treads the boards.”  May we never see the end of his talents.

A side note, this is very adult in subject matter and has full nudity by two members the cast.  Although baring themselves emotionally before an audience is stock-and-trade of the acting profession, revealing the human body before strangers, is no more easy for them, as it would be for us.  Berns and Weiss certainly have nothing to be ashamed of, as they are attractive human beings, but they are also very brave to go the “extra mile” in exposing themselves to us.  I applaud them for this.  And Weiss is also a very talented, up-and-coming actor in the company and we should be seeing more of her in the future.

I recommend this show but, again, be aware, it is very adult in content.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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