The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble kicked off its new season auspiciously and ambitiously with a stirring production of Peter Shaffer's 1973 drama "Equus."
Thematically, the play is one of the most complex to be produced in Savannah, maybe ever.
The story follows psychiatrist Martin Dysart and Alan Strang, a fragile 17-year-old who has been institutionalized after blinding six horses one night at the stable where he works.
As Dysart pulls the full story of events from Alan, we see the intertwined layers of repression, religious fervor and misplaced psychosexual fixation.
Or is it misplaced?
As he peels layers of Alan's psyche, the doctor confronts his own emotional impotence.
The shrink who jokes he has shrunk his own life soon finds himself in an existential crisis, even envying Alan's passion.
However "crazy" he may be, Alan is alive in ways that Dysart isn't.
The interactions between Mark Rand as Dysart and Zach Blaylock as Alan are simply riveting, even early on when Alan is largely uncommunicative.
Blaylock's performance draws the audience in and lets us see the world's mysteries through Alan's eyes.
Rand is an old hand on the local theater scene, but I don't know if he's ever had a part more suited to his skills.
Under the direction of David I.L. Poole, "Equus" comes to life in unexpected and even thrilling ways.
The layered narrative requires overlapping scenes, as characters move from one time to another. The competent cast could accomplish this on their own, but the staging here is exceptional.
The lighting, props, sound effects, occasional video and music propel the story forward and heighten the tension as Alan's confessions are made manifest onstage.
And there are the horses, played by Zachary Burke, Jonathan Hinnen and Kevin D. Santana, costumed to evoke classical beauty as well as sadomasochistic restraint.
The rest of the cast is uniformly strong, including Dandy Barrett as Dysart's friend and colleague, Eric Salles and Lynne Jones as Alan's dogmatic parents, Bill DeYoung as the perplexed stable owner and Vanessa Stipkovits as Alan's nurse.
April Hayes is compelling as Jill, the flirtatious woman who tries to pull Alan from his shell. She has no idea what will be unleashed.
The Collective Face notes "Equus" is not recommended for those younger than 18.
I would also not recommend it for those who like their theater light, funny and quickly forgotten.
Apparently, the evening shows were very well attended on opening weekend, but I was one of only about a dozen on hand for an intimate Sunday matinee.
I sure hope folks avail themselves of the chance to see this fine production.
Bill Dawers writes City Talk in the Savannah Morning News and blogs at Savannah Unplugged (www.billdawers.com). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO
What: The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble presents Peter Shaffer's "Equus"
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 27, 28 and Oct. 4, 5; 3 p.m. Sept. 29 and 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