a kate west review
by Peter Shaffer; directed by Tim Dang
at the East West Players, 120 North Judge John Aiso Street, LA 90012
running October - December, 2005; tix $30-$35 regular performances
contact (213) 625-7000 or http://www.eastwestplayers.org/
George Takei, best known as Sulu in the celebrated original "Star Trek" series, takes a different turn as psychiatrist Martin Dysart in the East West Players new production of "Equus". A complex and demanding role, Dysart carries the play, acting as both narrator and protagonist but Takei does not quite pull it off.
The story involves a young boy, Alan Strang (Trieu D. Tran), brought to the doctor's attention after blinding six horses with a steel spike. Intrigued, Dysart agrees to take the case. In the course of his analysis, Dysart uncovers deep emotion and passion in an apparently painfully shy and odd little boy. Colleague Hesther Salomon (Jeanne Sakata) pleads for Dysart to end the boy's pain, Alan's parents Frank and Dora (Alberto Isaac and Dian Kobayashi) are bewildered by their son and Alan himself is at times defiant and at other times pathetically dependent on Dysart. The most surprising revelation of all comes from Dysart realizing that Alan's secret midnight rides on the horses make him more alive and real than the Greek gods Dysart so emulates in the pages of his dusty old books. In the end, Dysart cannot find blame in Alan's average, slightly ineffectual parents or in society and his great conflict comes in knowing that if he actually "cures" the boy, he will also be killing his originality. His own life will seem bleak in comparison, either way.
Director Tim Dang honors playwright Peter Shaffer's original staging with a minimalist stage, an arena roped platform, surrounded by benches for the actors. All the actors remain on stage throughout the play and the horses are symbolically portrayed by actors with metal horse heads stamping about on spring horseshoes. Not only does this convey confinement, but also the idea that the protagonists are under constant vigilance, perhaps even judgment. Also, since Alan is recounting past events, the psychological aspects take on a dreamlike quality. Set Designer Maiko Nezu, Costume Designer Annalisa Adams and Lighting Designer Rand Ryan also aid greatly in providing a perfect clinical atmosphere. All this is not quite enough to instill passion in his actors, however.
George Takei, as Dysart, has a nice, theatrically trained voice, but somehow does not fully encompass a fully rounded character. Tieu D. Tran, as Alan has some nice moments and is quite moving in the climactic scene with love interest Jill Mason (Cheryl Tsai). The actors are all fine, although some of them inexplicably go in and out of British accents. It is a fine production in general, yet does not have the emotional impact the original production must have generated back in 1970's London. Peter Shaffer's brilliant writing makes for a fascinating play, regardless, and as an added bonus, this production will be deeply satisfying to any theatergoers who also happen to be Trekkies.