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Theater review: 'Equus' at Chandler Studio Theatre

July 9, 2009 |  3:00 pm

THE FIELD AT NIGHT Transcendent craft distinguishes "Equus" at the Chandler Studio Theatre. This incisive chamber revival of Peter Shaffer's much-lauded spiritual psychodrama meets spatial limitations head-on, with exceptional results.

Superbly directed by August Viverito, the ultra-intimate approach honors the published text and John Dexter's original 1973 staging. We flank a central platform that vaguely suggests a boxing ring, horse-head masks hanging above. Child psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Jim Hanna) notes teen Alan Strang (Patrick Stafford), first seen embracing "one particular horse, called Nugget" (Aaron Misakian).

In direct address, Dysart avers how deeply Alan, remanded to clinical observation after blinding six horses with a metal spike, has shaken him -- "The extremity is the point!" Court magistrate Hesther (Gretchen Koerner) leaves her front-row bench, from where all characters besides Dysart and Alan watch the play unfold, and "Equus" begins its trek into the shadows of the human psyche.

Viverito resourcefully meets Shaffer's specs, invaluably assisted by lighting designer Ric Zimmerman. The tiny venue demands absolute concentration, which Viverito's ensemble certainly delivers, with Hanna and Stafford beyond praise. Hanna conveys a passionate eloquence that perfectly underscores the tragic irony of Dysart's situation. Stafford, who has the face of a Maxfield Parrish youth and the intensity of a live grenade, is a major discovery as Alan.

Karen Furno and Skip Pipo as his parents, John Joyce III's stable owner, Michael Rachlis' nurse and Lauren Schneider's pivotal co-worker complete an invested cast. Their seamless work pulls us forward in our seats with riveting power and spurs this extraordinary miniature.

-- David C. Nichols

"Equus," Chandler Studio Theatre, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. (3 p.m. Sundays, beginning July 26. Ends Aug. 22. Contains nudity. $22-$25. (800) 838-3006. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Photo: Patrick Stafford