This play is bananas good.
Jacob Pennington as Alan and Charley Raintree as Nugget. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
Peter Shaffer’s modern classic comes intensely alive in the hands of Cadence Theatre Company, and you should do whatever it takes to get to see it before it ends November 28th.
Seeing Equus here was maybe one of the most impressive things that I have ever had an honor to take in with my own senses. You should not miss this very special chance to be challenged intensely and left reeling by the awesome talent Richmond theatre has to offer in rendering Peter Shaffer’s deeply haunting story.
WHAT IT IS
Equus comes to us still feeling fresh 42 years after the 1973 premiere of what would become a storied run in London, followed by a tremendously long series of 1,209 performances on Broadway which included many actors you have heard of and revered on screen like Anthony Hopkins and Richard Burton. Playwright Sir Peter Shaffer, who also wrote Amadeus, penned it after hearing second-hand about a real crime that occurred where a teenager blinded six horses as an attempt to build a backstory that might explain why he could’ve done such a wicked thing.
The resulting piece of work, as produced here with artistic and technical skill so high-level that it seems like actual magic, is told largely through child psychiatrist Dr. Martin Dysart and his tireless obsession to open the mind of his combative teen patient Alan Strang and discover the truth behind his unfathomable actions. It’s a mesmerizing journey that blurs truth, nightmares, and the vivid internal world of a lonely boy on a tiny stage in front of you.
WHERE IT IS
Theatre Gym at the Virginia Repertory Theatre, on Broad Street just west of Adams. Don’t be thinking this is the same as the massive November Theatre in the same building, or that you will have to lift weights while the show is going on because it’s called “Gym.” Theatre Gym is the small stage that’s served as the home of a Cadence Theatre Company’s partnership with V since 2011, and what a home it is, you guys!
It’s a very intimate little box, where every seat puts you right in the middle of this super intense performance. We sat in the very back row, all the way in the way back, and we still felt like we were, like, right there. I seriously can’t imagine seeing this in a bigger room than Theatre Gym and feeling the deep intimacy that I did.
WHO’S BEHIND IT
Cadence Theatre Company is one of the newer outfits in town, having come onto the scene in 2009, but they have the kind of reputation that makes it seem they must have been here since the beginning of time. They select challenging contemporary plays to serve us, and in opening their three-show season with this legendary play, Cadence proves it’s up to absolutely anything.
They didn’t go it alone on this though! To pull off this production, they smartly partnered with Virginia Repertory Theatre and also tapped the incredible talents of the Amaranth Contemporary Dance troupe and students in VCU Dance to perform as the horses that are the underlying reason for all of the events of the play. I can’t say enough about the huge and evident quality of this collaboration. Right from the first moments of the play, when the horses are introduced to you with an intoxicating and wild symphony of movements, they’re a powerful force on the stage. The VCU students who got to participate in this should be incredibly proud of their achievements here.
David Bridgewater gives us the weary psychiatrist Dr. Martin Dysart in excellent form, handling expertly every minute detail of a man struggling to make sense out of a thoroughly disordered world. His patient Alan Strang is played by Jacob Pennington, and he embodies every single bit of the darkness and exuberance of that very difficult teenager with chilling precision and warmth. The lead’s supporting cast as directed by Cadence founder Anna Johnson was expert and hugely impressive, carrying a challenging production that required them to often disappear in plain sight without a single hitch.
The technical work in this show–the severe lighting, the small building blocks that constantly had to be shifted to build the scenes, the projected ornamentation, and the gleefully dark sound design–was thrilling and precise, transforming the performance space into a vast array of worlds with complete ease. It was beautiful, I tell you.
WHEN IT IS
Equus runs through November 28th, with Friday and Saturday evening performances, Sunday matinées, and a special industry night performance on Tuesday the 24th. Full list of performances here.
HOW MUCH IT COSTS
It’s $30 for the Regular Public, but if you’re a subscriber or a member of the Richmond Association of Professional Theatre, you can knock a few clams off that and buy a seat for $25. You’ll pay about 15% in fees if you buy online, slightly less if you buy by phone at (804) 282-2620, and no fees at all if you buy at the box office, which is open Monday through Friday, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Virginia Rep offers a couple of free lots nearby, but you’ll want to read their parking page carefully for info. Particularly note that if you want to use one of their lots, you must print out a parking pass from that page and put it on your dashboard. Or you can just look for street parking on Franklin, Grace, Marshall, or Clay. Or pay a few dollars cash to park in an honor box lot off Grace. So many options!
Or you can skip the parking altogether and get basically curbside service at Jefferson westbound or Adams eastbound from numerous GRTC bus routes, including 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 21, and 24.
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
The themes in this show are quite grown-up, including deep exploration of sexuality, religious belief, and psychological trauma, and it’s long, at about a 3 hour run time with a 10 minute intermission. Oh yeah, and there’s full (story essential, not gratuitous) nudity. Your little kids will not appreciate this show and should not come, but you should definitely consider bringing your very savvy older teenagers with you to this awesomely difficult show as long as you’re prepared to have Very Adult Conversations with them afterwards.
Virginia Rep has your hookup if anyone in your party uses a wheelchair, just say so when you buy your tickets. They also have some
assisted listening devices handy for anyone that could use a little help hearing.
Wine, beer, cocktails, soda, coffee, water, and snacks are all there for you at concession, and you’re welcome to bring anything you buy into the theatre with you, so no need to guzzle or gobble during the intermission.
IF YOU DON’T GO DO THIS, YOU WILL…
Be very sad whenever you see a reference in wider culture to this hugely influential play, which happens often, because you’ll know you missed a chance to smirk, showing that you totally get it.