It's not always easy to come out swinging, but The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble isn't shying away from showing off their acting chops.
And what better way to kick off their second year as the only repertory theatre company in Savannah than to present Peter Shaffer's critically acclaimed, and sometimes controversial, psychological thriller "Equus." The play debuts at 8 p.m. Sept. 20 at Muse Arts Warehouse.
"Well, it's a very interesting play," said David I. L. Poole, artistic director for the group and director of the upcoming production. "'Equus' was based on a newspaper article that Peter Shaffer had read where a youth blinds six horses with a metal spike. It's a psychological thriller that explores as to why this boy has done this act."
The story of "Equus" centers on a psychiatrist named Martin Dysart who is determined to uncover the reason for the bizarre behavior of a young man named Alan Strang.
As their counseling sessions proceed, Dysart begins to understand how and why the damaged teen's passion for horses has taken over his life.
"The psychiatrist becomes obsessed with why this boy, Alan, has done this," Poole said. "The interesting thing about the play as to why it was so controversial is the way the horses are portrayed by actors in masks, not by real horses.
"It gives a surreal quality to it. It's a very interesting play - in line with 'Agnes of God' where those kinds of psychiatrists are trying to figure out why someone would commit a crime."
"Equus" won the Tony for Best Play in 1975 and was revived on Broadway in 2007, earning a Drama Desk nomination for Daniel Radcliffe, the actor made famous by his film role as Harry Potter.
Radcliffe's participation in the Broadway performance also stirred some controversy because his role as Alan required him to be nude in the play.
"There is actually a nude scene," Poole said. "That was the big thing with Radcliffe.
"People couldn't believe Harry Potter was going to get naked."
Poole explained that his group had to apply for royalties to get the rights to perform "Equus," and the production company has rules to maintain Shaffer's original intent.
"They won't let you do the play without the nudity. I had to sign a waiver that said the nude scenes were going to be done nude."
Poole also said the play is not intended for those younger than 18 due to the nudity and the darkness of the content.
"There are also some laughs and light comedic parts, as well," he said. "It's sort of this episodic play in which every scene is sort of revealed very slowly - kind of like peeling back the layers of an onion. At end of play, we find out why Alan has done this."
Since the story takes place during the '70s in England, Poole team had to get creative with the props.
"We had props shipped over from England, like a magazine, some clothing items shipped over - period pieces, food items. We wanted to be as close and authentic as possible."
Dandy Barrett, managing director of The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble, said she's excited to play a role in "Equus" and about the direction the group is headed.
"I'm playing Hester Solomon - the chief magistrate who receives the young boy to the psychiatrist as opposed to sending him to jail," Barrett said.
"'Equus' is a very challenging play that requires a strong ensemble of people. You can't take one or two actors and fill in around them. It requires a strong level of acting from all of the players. So we wanted to be sure we had that strength, and we do."
Barrett also explained that this is the first year the company has offered subscriptions to ticket buyers - they can get four shows for the price of three.
"This year, we introduced subscriptions, and further down the road, we hope we are in position to compensate the people who work for the company, from the technical side to the actors. We are not yet at that point, but we hope to get there."
After "Equus," the group plans to present "Bell, Book and Candle," a romantic Christmas Eve comedy.
IF YOU GO
What: The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble presents Peter Shaffer's "Equus"
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 20, 21, 27, 28; 8 p.m. Oct. 4, 5; 3 p.m. Sept. 22, 29; 3 p.m. Oct. 6
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road
Cost: $20 general admission, $15 seniors/students/active-duty military. Not intended for those younger than 18.
Info: 912-232-0018, www.collectiveface.org