EQUUS, Bailiwick Repertory. Some ideas work better on paper than onstage. Employing both deaf and hearing characters in Peter Shaffer’s 1973 classic to depict the characters’ dualities makes some sense. But instead of giving us a complex whole, director David Zak has created two incomplete and contradictory parts. Playing the sexually frustrated psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who becomes obsessed with his horse-worshiping young charge Alan Strang, Robert Bailey speaks with cool, intellectual detachment while Robert Schleifer bounds about the stage signing his lines with boyish enthusiasm. Zak may intend to represent two sides of the same man, but they appear to be characters in two different plays, and though both actors do a competent job with Dysart, neither is old enough to embody the “professional menopause” that afflicts him. In similarly confusing fashion, the actors signing the roles of Strang’s parents seem a good 15 years older than the actors speaking the lines. The effect is not so much challenging as distracting.

The moments that best survive this interpretation are Strang’s interactions with his feared and beloved horses and his failed romantic encounter with the stable girl Jill. Fluidly signing and speaking their roles at the same time, Wellesley Chapman as Alan and Dorothy Dillingham as Jill convey the visceral and emotional power of Shaffer’s still-incendiary exploration of the beauties of madness and the perils of sanity; much of the rest of Bailiwick’s production succeeds only intellectually.

–Adam Langer