Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern
Directed by J. Barry Lewis in his usual impeccable style, by and large, this is a good showing of the play, albeit with a few easily corrected problems. A basic scenic design by Anne Mundell greets the audience: a dark brick wall with the title of the play painted on it in enormous lettersdistracting, but I suppose there was a reason for it. The actors are seated in the wings when not onstage; one can see crossed legs, the occasional arm, etc., and might wonder why they are not in full view of the audience at all timesanother distraction. A turntable, mid-stage, is put to good use in the final scene of act one for the ecstatic ride of Alan on his favorite horse, Nugget (Domenic Servidio).
Lighting takes a leading role in any production of Equus and Kirk Bookman's work is superb. Unfortunately, it is hard to gauge the sound design of Steve Shapiro, since the actors are not miked and, as is usual, unfortunately, with Dramaworks, the acoustics make too much of the dialogue unintelligible. I have seen plays in black boxes with a seating capacity of 50 and the actors are miked. It's too bad that this is what theatre has become, but it is important to hear every word. Prize-winning costume designer Franne Lee has dressed everyone in contemporary street/office appropriate clothing.
The most exciting aspect of this particular Equus is in the first stage appearance of our Alan, Steven Maier. It is impossible to believe that he, a recent graduate of the North Carolina School for the Arts, at 22 years old, has never been on a professional stage before. He is astounding and he carries the performance on his thin and heartbreaking back. Heartbreaking? He is so thin that one can see every bone and muscle in his body, and it is thrilling to see how he literally acts with, well, every bone and muscle in his body. His accent and diction are perfection. Welcome to the world of professional theatre, Mr. Maier.
Mr. Hilton's Dysart is more problematic. Throughout act one he affects a Rex Harrison, piercing nasality that makes every line seem similar. It is only in act two that he relaxes and seems to trust his prodigious talent and varies his vocal delivery, and we begin to care about Dysart and his personal and marital problems. One of the pitfalls of this type of speech is that it keeps everyone, audience and fellow actors alike, at a distance and there is a definite lack of connection. I have seen Mr. Hilton before, and he is a superb actor. I'm sure he will settle in as the run continues. Playing Jill, the beautiful stablehand Alan has an unfortunate coupling with, is Mallory Newbrough, a recent Carbonell winner and recently the "it" girl in SoFla musical comedies. She is a spectacular talent, but as Jill, she seems a tad at sea. As of now, there is no intent in her portrayal and she also appears quite All-American contemporary rather than British. It is to Mr. Maier's credit that Alan and Jill's famous/infamous scene works as well as it does. I am sure that with time, and Mr. Lewis' directorial skills, so evident elsewhere, she will be working at her fullest capacity.
The other actors all do a lovely job, especially Julie Rowe as Alan's unhappy mother. John Leonard Thompson does a nice job as Alan's dad who feels inferior to his wife (he is!) and Anne-Marie Cusson (the spitting image of Sigourney Weaver) does yeoman work as Magistrate Hesther Salomon.
A special word about the actors playing the horses, the aforementioned Mr. Servidio, Austin Carroll, Nicholas Lovalvo, Robert Richards, Jr. and Frank Vomero. Director Lewis has "horseographed", hmmm, "equuagraphed" their spare movements to a mesmerizing level. When onstage, I found it hard to take my eyes off them. Wonderful work.
This is a production of a classic that deserves to be seen. As for young Mr. Maier, I have three words: Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
Equus, through June 3rd, 2018, at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach FL. 33401 Please call 561-514-4042 or visit www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.