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Equus

Martin Dysert (Paul Borrillo), a psychologist at a mental hospital in southern England, is approached by a local magistrate, Hester Salomon (Amalie Millhone) to take up the disturbing case of a 17-year-old boy—Alan Strang (Spencer Althoff), who blinded six horses—in hopes of having the youth come to grips with the horror of his crime.

Paul Borrillo (standing) as Martin Dysart and Spencer Althoff as Alan Strang
Paul Borrillo (standing) as Martin Dysart
and Spencer Althoff as Alan Strang
Photo: Rachel Graham
Dysert—who has come to question the value of his work and wonders if he is simply reshaping minds to fit into a "normalcy" defined by those who benefit from a compliant and unquestioning population—reluctantly agrees to take the case.

Yet, Dysert digs deep as he explores the psychological dynamics that drive Alan, by interviewing his parents, Frank (Clint Heyn) and Dora Strang (Margie Lamb), as well as the stable owner, Harry Dalton (Peter Marillo), and by using every technique and trick that he has honed over his many years of practice, finally getting Alan to verbalize the events leading up to his heinous attack on the horses (Tait Peterson, Daniel Wheeler, and John Tyler), including his then budding relationship with Jill Mason (Victoria Copeland).

Spencer Althoff as Alan Strang and Paul Borrillo as Martin Dysart
Spencer Althoff as Alan Strang
and Paul Borrillo as Martin Dysart
Photo: Rachel Graham
Borrillo—a two-time winner of the Denver Drama Critics Circle Award for best actor (Uncle Peck, How I Learned To Drive, Curious Theatre, and Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird, Arvada Center)—is a wonder as the world weary, yet philosophical and savvy Dysert (an epic role that has attracted the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Leonard Nimoy, and Anthony Perkins), as he uncovers every nuance of Dysart's self-searching inner dialogue in a hefty series of spell-binding monologues. The playwright's musings begin with Dysart's ruminations on the proper service of psychology to the individual, not the state, and wander through compelling territories, from religious dogmatism to animal spirits and beyond.

The action is staged in a circular manner surrounded by fences (the barn and horse ring) and benches (hospital room and office), simply and elgantly designed by Michael R. Duran. Althoff is magnetic and dangerous as Alan, making us to wonder if we are safe in such close proximity, as he duels with Dysart.

Amalie Millhone as Hester Salomon and Paul Borrillo as Martin Dysart
Amalie Millhone as Hester Salomon
and Paul Borrillo as Martin Dysart
Photo: Rachel Graham
Dysart's only consolatory support comes from Hester, which sets up an interesting subtext between the two, who are in no position to take their mutual fondness any further than a friendly business relationship. Perhaps the literary and historical allusions brought to mind by playwright Peter Shaffer (Amadeus) in the woman's name are an indication of Hester's boundaries. Millhone subtley embodies a fine line of ambivalence: personable, yet familiar.

Paul Borrillo as Martin Dysart, Margie Lamb as Dora Strang, and Clint Heyn as Frank Strang
Paul Borrillo as Martin Dysart,
Margie Lamb as Dora Strang,
and Clint Heyn as Frank Strang
Photo: Rachel Graham
Dysart finds the crux of Alan's issues in the youth's parents' disparate views on religion, with Dora a devout Christian and Frank an atheist (yet, the strong animism in Alan's obsession with the horses is a wildcard from another dimension). One sees in Lamb's portrayal the subconcious emotional limitations and fears created by Dora's dogmatic beliefs, while Heyn's frank and matter-of-fact intensity reveals another, more secular but equally emotional, form of rigidity. Marullo creates strong tension in Dalton's seething feelings regarding Alan's criminality, which brings into play consideration of the elusive dialectic between severely emotionally-disturbed people and criminal law. Here Shaffer may wax a bit Nietzschean, through Dysart, in romanticizing Alan's violent act.

Spencer Althoff as Alan Strang and Tait Peterson as Nugget
Spencer Althoff as Alan Strang
and Tait Peterson as Nugget
Photo: Rachel Graham
Enough can't be said about the beautiful verisimilatude of the horses—with their marvelous heads by Bozeman, MT, sculptor Jim Dolan (shared by professor, Stephanie Campbell, Montana State University) and their sweet clomping hooves on loan from the CU Department of Theatre and Dance—filled out by the mannerisms of the actors and all woven together imaginatively by costume designer Brenda King. For the humans, the ladies' attire is particularly tasteful. Moody lighting and sound by Jen Orf and Brian Freeland underscore this fine production, directed by Warren Sherrill.

The Avenue Theater's presentation of Equus runs through November 21st. For tickets: 303-321-5925 or Avenue Theater tickets.

Bob Bows



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