‘Equus’ Gallops Onto Stage

Matthew Mazzella stars in Manoa Valley's Theatre production of ‘Equus' ERICH STEINWANDT PHOTO

Matthew Mazzella stars in Manoa Valley’s Theatre production of ‘Equus’ ERICH STEINWANDT PHOTO

Psychological mystery Equus has been a stage hit since Peter Shaffer penned the play in the 1970s, and now you can catch it at Manoa Valley Theatre through June 5.

Equus, which has garnered countless accolades including a Tony Award, tells the story of Alan, a 17-year-old boy who has blinded six horses and the psychiatrist who tries to figure out why he did it. As the psychiatrist delves into Alan’s past, he has to confront his own issues.

The Manoa Valley Theatre production is led by guest director Alexander Munro, who has a long history with Equus — it was one of the first plays he participated in, and he saw the Broadway production starring Daniel Radcliffe a few years ago. When he had the opportunity to direct Equus, he admits that there was a bit of fear mixed in with his excitement: “I didn’t want to just recreate my memory of what I saw they did on Broadway; I wanted to create a production that was for a Honolulu audience in 2016.”

In an effort to do that, Munro explains that he went back to the original script to search for themes he felt would resonate with modern local audiences.

“I found two … the first is this conflict between nature and modernity,” Munro says. “In Honolulu, we’ve got very spirited debates over the rail, and over Mauna Kea Observatories. And in the text, you have conflict and discussion over television … and how that’s been taking over reading and print.

“The other thing is the absence of actually experiencing life,” he continues. “Instead of going out and hiking and exploring this beautiful island that we have, we all look at our cell phones and we watch Planet Earth.”

Plus, he adds, it’s “wonderfully theatrical — you have actors playing horses … (and) it’s just a really compelling story.

“Trying to figure out why (Alan) did it really just takes you on this rollercoaster ride of emotions and this psychological detective story.”

Munro’s interest in theater, he says, stems from the fact that he always had “a very active imagination.”

“I think I loved the idea of being transported to different worlds and different situations and really having the opportunity to empathize with other people and have that kind of connection,” he says.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, he moved to the Islands to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree at University of Hawaii at Manoa. He graduated from the program in 2014 and currently is a Ph.D. candidate in performance studies. When he’s not studying, he casts and coaches actors from the theater department to play patients at the School of Nursing via the HealthCAST program.

One of his goals with Manoa Valley Theatre’s Equus production is to prompt people to ask questions about the material — even after they leave the theater.

“I am hoping that when they leave that they have a conversation — that it isn’t something they just experience and then they leave and turn on Game of Thrones and forget about it.

“The actors and the designers and everyone involved have really poured their heart and soul into this,” he adds. “It is just a beautiful show when it’s all put together, and I think that for the audiences who are willing to go outside their comfort zone, it is going to leave an impression on them.”

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays. Tickets cost $39, with discounts for youths, seniors and military. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit manoavalleytheatre.com or call 988-6131.