By GUY D’ASTOLFO
After a long layoff, the Oakland Center for the Arts will finally get back into action this weekend.
The theater will present “Equus,” its first stage production since October’s “Angels in America.”
The play will run for three weekends.
Vaughn Schmidt, director, said the cast and crew are very eager to get back on the stage.
“As wonderful as ‘Angels in America’ was, there was an unfortunate lack of audience turnout, so you can imagine how much the cast wants to knock this one out of the park,” he said. “We are hoping that ‘Equus’ will change everything and put the Oakland back at the forefront of local theater.”
The 1973 play by Peter Shaffer tells the story of a psychiatrist who is treating a young man who has a pathological religious fascination with horses.
It unfolds in the style of a detective story as the psychiatrist attempts to understand the young man, who sees horses as representative of God and who develops a sexual attraction to the animals.
The play opened in London in the ’70s before moving to Broadway, where it ran for 1,209 performances.
The last time “Equus” was produced by a theater in the Mahoning Valley was about 20 years ago, which is another reason Schmidt believes audiences will be attracted.
“Equus” is a psychological piece that will leave show-goers contemplating questions.
“It’s like a movie that one has seen several times, and you always pick up on something new each time,” said Schmidt. “It is as thought-provoking as it is shocking. That is what makes the show so interesting to me. It blends beauty and madness, sympathy with hatred, sex and violence with love and worship. It will, no doubt, do a total 180 on audiences.”
Schmidt said he has seen the show and read it many times afterward, but still keeps finding new things about the plot and characters. He has long been thinking about how he would approach the show should he get a chance to direct it — which, he said, has given him a head start.
The Oakland production will employ avant garde lighting.
“It’s much easier to light the whole stage and call it a day, so to speak, but we are doing it much differently,” said Schmidt. “Just enough light to see what we want you to see. No distractions.”
Another challenge “Equus” poses is to tastefully stage a play that is very adult in nature.
“Luckily, I have an incredible cast of actors who are both receptive to things that I want and trustworthy enough to try things their own way,” said Schmidt. “It has been a very nice, collaborative process.”
The cast includes Timothy Thomas as Dr. Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist; Cheney Morgan as Alan Strang, the young man; Molly Galano as Dora Strang; Eric Kibler as Frank Strang; and Kylie Davis, Joanna Andrei, Alan McCreary, Brandy Johanntges, Dan Lancy, Nathan Tustin, Victoria Lubonovich and Ezekiel Ellis.
The production staff is stage manager Starr McClure, assistant director Chuck Simon, lighting designer Scott Sutton, sound designer Nick Samson, costume designer Robert Dennick Joki and horse choreographer Caitlin Hjerpe.
The Oakland’s production also will include an original musical score written by Dylan Mays of Youngstown-area band Chaos Reigns, whose members include Schmidt.