The New Theatre in Coral Gables is currently housing probably its best production to date with Peter Shaffer’s Equus, featuring a perfectly cast ensemble of local actors.
The intriguing story tells of the mental disturbances of a seventeen year old boy named Alan Strang (David Hemphill) who inexplicably blinds six horses in a stable where he worked part time.
Legal case worker Hesther Salomon (Linda Bernhard) convinces psychiatrist Martin Dysart (James Samuel Randolph) to accept the boy as a patient.
During the course of the play, Dysart successfully manages to break through Alan’s thickly walled persona to discover the boy’s unusual sexual attraction to the equine species, one that eventually usurps Alan’s ability to perform satisfactorily when confronted with his first attempt at sex with a young female of his own species.
The embarrassment of the sexual failure launches the boy into an uncontrollable rage, which provokes the blinding of the horses, witnesses to his inadequacy.
Playwright Shaffer skillfully peels away the layers of the disturbed young lad bit by bit, usually by having Alan re-enact events of his past during sessions with Dysart.
Shaffer’s words are masterfully sewn together and provide good chomping ground for a group of excellent actors eager to tackle the well constructed text.
Most adept at portraying the complexity of his particular character is David Hemphill. The young actor is nothing short of phenomenal in this role.
Hemphill’s comfort on stage and total understanding of Alan’s every nuance and nervous tick allows him to accept the challenge of the role’s required nudity with ease. Clothing becomes superfluous when captivated by the wonderful actor’s intensity of portrayal.
Shaffer’s Equus gained recent notoriety when Daniel Radcliff of Harry Potter fame assumed the role of Alan on Broadway last season. Mr. Hemphill might be destined for his own stardom, however, if this performance is any indication of the young actor’s amazing potential.
Equally at home under the big lights is Randolph, who often uses his booming baritone to penetrate Alan’s stubborn defensive wall. Randolph easily sways between narrator of story and involved participant with sometimes only a shifting of focus and voice tonality. The actor is completely encompassing.
As Alan’s super religious mother, who may in fact be responsible in part for the development of the boy’s psychosis, actress Laura Turnbull delivers a perfectly dissected monologue at the beginning of Act II that showcases her own skillful talent.
A total of eight South Florida actors make up this talented ensemble. Kudos to director Ricky J. Martinez for utilizing a keen eye in the casting, and for maintaining a pace throughout the show that leaves no room for distraction.
Equus continues through April 4th at the New Theatre, 4120 Laguna Street, Coral Gables. For more information, please visit the www.new-theatre.org website.
Michael Martin has been an active member of Actors’ Equity for over 20 years. As a professional actor, he has toured many parts of the US and the world. Originally from St. Louis, he now resides in Miami.