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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
EQUUS
at the Broadhurst Theatre

SPURRED ON
By BILL STEVENSON

  Daniel Radcliffe as Alan Strang

A hit in London last spring, this revival of Peter Shaffer's 1973 drama deserves to be a smash in New York as well. And not just because young Daniel Radcliffe, a.k.a. Harry Potter on film, shows his naughty bits in the climactic scene. Radcliffe turns in a terrific performance in an extremely demanding role, holding his own with his vastly more experienced costar, Richard Griffiths. Thanks to the leads and Thea Sharrock's tight direction, it's a gripping production of a play that still packs a wallop.

Radcliffe plays Alan Strang, a 17-year-old who inexplicably blinded six horses at the stable where he worked. Griffiths is psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who is asked to treat Alan by a magistrate (Kate Mulgrew). At first Alan responds to all questions by singing TV jingles. But Dysart gradually gets the troubled teenager to open up about his intense feelings for horses and his relationships with his repressive father (T. Ryder Smith), religious mother (Carolyn McCormick), and his pretty coworker at the stable (Anna Camp).

Shaffer has said that he was inspired by an actual incident but that he invented all the characters and events in the play except the blinding of the horses. Equus certainly holds up as a well-crafted drama that keeps audience members on the edge of their seats. But some of the psychiatry in the play and the parallels Shaffer draws between Alan and Dysart are questionable. Shaffer's interpretation of 1970s psychiatry may be dated and dubious, but his involving story hasn't lost any of its kick.

The most interesting and haunting character is Alan, even if his last name is a bit obvious (i.e., this kid is strange). Radcliffe is utterly convincing as the disturbed Alan, who relives the stable incident in wrenching nightmares. The actor's short stature works well, particularly in the scene when Alan as a boy rides a horse at the beach and when he rides his favorite horse, Nugget (Lorenzo Pisoni). For two and a half hours, Radcliffe throws himself into the part. During the curtain call he looks quite relieved to be able to break out of character.

Griffiths gives a more relaxed, contained performance as Dysart, who is asked to "cure" Alan even though he knows he will be taking away the boy's great passion. The actor doesn't dominate the stage as he did in his Tony-winning turn in The History Boys, but he's still a joy to watch. The supporting cast is also fine, particularly Camp and Pisoni. Mulgrew adds some levity in her scenes with Griffiths, but occasionally she verges on overacting.

Sharrock, who also staged Equus in the West End, maintains the tension from beginning to end. And John Napier's design serves the play perfectly. The circular stage provides a ring for the horses while also alluding to Greek tragedy. At center stage, the actors move rectangular blocks to form chairs, a bed, bales of hay etc. The set is at once simple and striking. David Hersey's lighting and Gregory Clarke's chilling sound effects also contribute to the mood.

Anyone who wants to see what all the fuss is about should buy tickets soon since this is a limited run and the word of mouth should be strong. It's an exciting, well-acted revival that will haunt theatergoers for years to come.

 


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