A Fascination with Horses‘Equus’ Gallops Back to Gables’ Stage

The theater world was abuzz two years ago when “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe was named to star in a West End production of Peter Shaffer’s disturbing 1973 play, “Equus”, a story about a psychiatrist who attempts to treat a teenager with a pathological religious and sexual fascination with horses.

While critics and fans speculated whether the wholesome “Potter” actor would disrobe on stage for the full frontal nude scenes (he did), local director Ricky Martinez of Coral Gables’ New Theatre saw his hopes of mounting a production in South Florida dashed--until now.


“We’ve been trying to get the show for two years,” he explains. “We were trying to get the rights before it was done on the West End and the reason they wouldn’t was because of that production. We didn’t even know who would be starring in it and then it came to Broadway.”

Martinez has been fascinated with “Equus” for many years and even directed a student production while in high school.

Playwright Shaffer was inspired by the story of a boy who blinded six horses in a small town outside London and wrote a fictional account, imagining what might have been going through the teen’s mind and how he would be treated.

In Shaffer’s story, the boy, Alan Strang, creates a personal theology with horses

serving as a “God” and develops conflicts between sexual desires and societal mores, expectations and institutions, as Shaffer has described in interviews. Child Psychologist Dr. Alan Dysart must diagnose and treat the boy as he examines his own sense of purpose.

“Structurally, it’s not a well-made play, but it’s a well-made play. It deals with emotions and the mind, with a simple story,” Martinez says. “It’s almost like watching a Hitchcock movie. Every scene leads to the next. That’s what fascinated us. This season, I’ve been playing around with different types of structure and it was the perfect fit. It’s an incredibly theatrical piece and all the artists are (on stage) watching the play unfold.”

Audiences can expect a traditional interpretation of the play: “Because the piece is so fascinating, it is morphable into many different visions. We are paying our respects to the language. This is the old school of theatre, with pages of monologues. Then you have action and then pages again of monologues. These aren’t the kind of things most writers are doing now. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s close to three hours (long), also. Hopefully, the audience comes out of it just as much in catharsis as the actors. Afterwards, everybody is drained. I can’t ask for anything better than that,” he adds.

Because of the challenges of Shaffer’s character, the role of Strang is rarely played by a teen. Martinez cast local New World School of the Arts alum David Hemphill in the role. Hemphill has been turning heads recently in shows across South Florida and Martinez promises another moving performance from the talented young actor.

“David is fantastic and he brings a beautiful grace to the role. We’ve tried to map out different versions of the character. (Strang) is usually so intense and angry, so we’ve looked for a new take on that role,” he says.

A strong ensemble rounds out the production, which Martinez promises will definitely surpass his attempt in high school. (“Of course, it was horrible,” he laughs.)

March 5 – April 4, 2010
New Theater
4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables
Tickets $40 at New-Theatre.org