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Horse Latitudes

Who Were Those Masked Horsemen? Michael DeGood relives his equine passions (Chad Fisk, center) in 'Equus.'

The sexual and the sacred take off at a gallop in 'Equus' at TheatreWorks

By Heather Zimmerman

THROUGH ITS haunting tale of a young stable hand who blinds six horses and the doctor who must cure him, Peter Shaffer's Equus provides some unsettling insight into the human psyche and how it is shaped by sexual and religious mores. TheatreWorks offers a no-holds-barred production of this provocative psychological drama with brutally honest performances. Stephen Markle brings intelligent vulnerability to Dr. Martin Dysart, the child psychiatrist set with the unlikely task of curing Alan Strang (Michael DeGood), a teenager who has committed an inexplicably cruel act. DeGood gives a powerful and frightening performance as the infinitely complex Strang, a young man caught up in a passion that he does not comprehend.

It's with the introduction of the other characters in Strang's life that the socially influenced aspects of his actions come sharply into view. Exuberant Jill (Tanya Shaffer), confident and open in her sexuality, offers Strang the affection and sensual experience he craves. But pulling him in other directions are his parents. Authoritarian and pragmatic, Strang's father, Frank (Julian López-Morillas), is at a complete loss to deal with his son's emotional neediness. Strang's mother, Dora (Phoebe Moyer), frequently at odds with her husband, dotes on Strang, inculcating him with her deeply Christian views. When the youth begins to mingle his worship of Christianity with the sensuality that he associates with horses, the combination proves devastating. Rather than merely blame the parents, the play makes it clear that Strang's own inner tendencies have somehow transformed the knowledge provided him. Most intriguingly of all, as Strang retells his story in impassioned reenactments for Dysart, we see the doctor begin to lament his own passionless life, particularly his joyless marriage.

Following the play's original production design, a small section of the audience is seated onstage, inviting us all to become witnesses, judges, even accomplices, to Strang's frightening actions. To complete the sense of vicarious participation, these onstage spectators are literally surrounded by the play, with a row of seated cast members in front of them, and a second tier of seating towering behind them, where the six ensemble cast members who portray Strang's equine idols observe the action. These actors frequently don sleek metalwork masks in the shapes of horse heads and come down to the main level to interact with Strang. The gentle, curving lines of the masks effectively reflect the play's dark sensuality, as do the set, lighting and the costumes--all of warm colors, deep earthy tones, at once simple and stark, yet not quite foreboding. They draw you, much like the script, into a corner of humanity that's both inviting and slightly repellent.

Equus plays Wednesday­Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm (June 29) and 8pm and Sunday at 7pm (June 30) and 2pm (July 7) through July 7 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Castro and Mercy streets, Mountain View. Tickets are $20­$28. (415/903-6000)

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From the June 27-July 3, 1996 issue of Metro

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