Volume 78 / Number 20 - October 15 - 21, 2008
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Theater

EQUUS
Written by Peter Shaffer
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Limited Run Through February 8
The Broadhurst Theater
235 West 44th Street
(212) 239-6200, equusonbroadway.com

Carol Rossegg

Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang, a 17-year-old undergoing psychiatric treatment after blinding six horses.

Dark reigns

By Scott Harrah

Onstage chemistry between two actors doesn’t get any better than that of “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe and veteran British thespian Richard Griffiths in Thea Sharrock’s superb revival of “Equus.” Although this dark, disturbing psychodrama, originally produced in 1973, is at times almost like a period piece – revisiting an era when exorcising one’s inner demons was fashionable – its potent message about the parallels between madness and religious fundamentalism is still quite topical today.

When a classic British drama comes to Broadway, it’s often an event, and that’s certainly the case with “Equus.” Daniel Radcliffe’s portrayal of 17-year-old Alan Strang, a troubled teen undergoing psychiatric treatment after blinding six horses in a rural English stable, is consistently riveting. This role is vastly different and more complex than anything he’s done in the “Potter” movies. Radcliffe is superb from the very first scene, when he is so distraught about his crime that he’s unable to speak normally, and instead answers questions by singing nursery-rhyme-like advertising jingles.

Richard Griffiths – last seen on the New York stage in his Tony-winning portrayal of a teacher in “The History Boys” – is compelling as psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who treats the teen and realizes they both have strong passions in life. While the middle-aged doctor mostly indulges in his love of Greek history and mythology through books and annual trips with his wife to the Mediterranean, the teenaged Alan has, much to the horror of his family, brought his obsession with horses and Christian idolatry into his own reality. When Radcliffe and Griffiths are onstage together, the proverbial sparks fly, and they are a tough act to follow for the rest of the cast. Only the marvelous Kate Mulgrew, of “Star Trek” fame, matches the duo’s sharp acting chops as the local magistrate Hesther Salomon, who’s also the psychiatrist’s friend. Without being melodramatic, she’s icy and serious in all the right places.

Carolyn McCormick and T. Ryder Smith are far less effective as Alan’s parents, Dora and Frank Strang. In some vital scenes, McCormick, playing Alan’s deeply religious mother, is weak. Her tepid delivery and phony-sounding British accent aren’t always convincing. Smith, as Alan’s atheist father, is equally mediocre. Anna Camp, as stable worker Jill Mason, does her best as the girl who unwittingly leads Alan to committing his shocking crime.

Staging a multifaceted, intricate play like “Equus,” with its many flashback sequences, is no easy task, but designer John Napier and lighting designer David Hershey do a fine job creating Alan’s nightmarish world with creepy lighting, smoke and horse-masked dancers sporting elevated horseshoes while moving on a revolving stage. The horse dancers, in their skintight bodysuits, choreographed by Fin Walker, display the right amount of homoeroticism to flesh out Alan’s equine fantasies. Lorenzo Pisoni, as Alan’s favorite horse Nugget, is particularly noteworthy.

The technical wizardry and eerie lighting may seem a bit overdone at times, but it doesn’t matter because this revival of “Equus” is truly a showcase for the extraordinary talents of Griffiths and Radcliffe. There have been many productions of Peter Shaffer’s story –loosely based on a story of a similar English crime in the early 1970s – including a film starring Richard Burton. Although the subject matter might seem too convoluted for 21st century audiences, it still makes great theater, and director Thea Sharrock allows these two acting heavyweights to convey a sense of magic rarely seen on the stage.

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