“Equus” – Nearly Naked Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ January 21, 2013


Nearly Naked Theatre, The Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Ten years ago the then small and almost unnoticed Nearly Naked Theatre burst on the theater scene with a colossal production of Peter Shaffer’s fascinatingly insightful play, “Equus.”  It explores teenager Alan Strang and his vicious blinding of six horses.  The ramifications of his awful deed and the psychological, sexual, and other implications make for a mesmerizing and probing debate.  In a stellar remount of his monumental production, stage director Damon Dering again crafts a brilliant staging of the challenging and extremely difficult play to present.

With an almost entirely new cast – only one actor, Laura Durant as Alan’s perplexed and confused mother, Dora Strang, returns and brilliantly – Dering creates a magnificent production, one that all serious Valley theatergoers must see.

This time Dering puts the lead role in the hands of young actor Devon Nickel who delivers a memorably complex Alan.  The audience sees the character’s struggles with reality, his deep thinking on various topics, and the play examines Alan’s sick justification for doing the ridiculously wasteful, hurtful, and abusive maiming that gets tied to his odd obsession to the trusting horses.  His thinking is unlocked by psychiatrist Martin Dysart but is tied to his father, Frank, and Dora, his mother, and the bizarre things he has been taught growing up.  Shaffer’s perceptive play dissects and expounds on the inner workings of Alan’s bizarrely sick thinking.

But it’s not just Nickel that makes this production so definitive.  It’s the entire acting ensemble who each establishes and conveys the characters around Alan including the six horses that are believably brought to life by the fine actors, Bernard Connor Verhoeven, Nathalie Cadieux, Raven Woessner, Zak Sterling, Drew Swaine, and Frankie Marchi.  David Weiss enacts the probing psychiatrist Martin Dysart with insight and determination.  Weiss also marvelously re-creates Greg Jaye’s original massive unit set design and Jay Templeton’s marvelous stage masks enable the six actors to transform artfully into the horses.

The production is spirited, directed, and guided to keep audiences engrossed and involved as it explodes all over the tiny stage at the Little Theatre at Phoenix Theatre that Dering’s production makes appear huge.

There isn’t a misstep in this fine “Equus,” one of the play’s most accomplished productions I’ve ever seen, and it’s nice that a revival of such an acclaimed staging that so impacted local theater 10 years ago is wonderfully moving and involving again.

“Equus” plays only until February 2 so local theatergoers need to secure their tickets now.  It’s not to be missed.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.nearlynakedtheatre.org.

Grade: A