Jacob Pennington as Alan and Charley Raintree as Horseman/Nugget in "Equus" (photo courtesy Jason Collins Photography)
In Cadence Theatre Co.'s production of the 1973 psychological drama Equus by Peter Shaffer, director Anna Senechal Johnson is collaborating with Scott Putman of the VCU Department of Dance and Choreography and Amaranth contemporary dance company, as well as video artists and musicians, to tell the story of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (played by David Bridgewater, shown) and a disturbed teenager named Alan Strang (Jacob Pennington) with an erotic-religious fixation on horses.
Johnson, who has experience in dance as well as in theater, says that she fell in love with the script during college. "I’ve been thinking about doing it for several years," she adds. When she saw Pennington perform in a Henley Street (now Quill) Theatre production of Shining City, she knew she'd found her Alan.
Bridgewater played the role of Dysart 12 years ago, but he says that now he's actually the right age for the character. "To step back into this now is going to hit home in a lot of ways," he says. "I'm approaching it at a much more personal place." As someone who in recent years has been through a divorce, battled depression and returned to school to get a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, Bridgewater can relate to Dysart's personal and professional struggles.
"I love the play and what it has to say about how we treat people with mental health issues," he says. "I think it's got a great message, that it's OK to be different. It doesn't make you inhuman to have problems."
What resonates for Johnson is "that juxtaposition between leading a very controlled life versus the freedom that one experiences when one's able to be true to oneself."
Virginia Rep Center's Theatre Gym. $26 to $30. 282-2620 or cadencetheatre.org.