Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the five "Harry Potter" films, acquits himself admirably with a confident Broadway debut as the disturbed adolescent Alan Strang at the core of Peter Shaffer’s 1973 psychodrama Equus. The revival directed by Thea Sharrock debuted at London’s National Theatre earlier this year with the same theatrically impressive design team. John Napier, set and costume designer, merely takes a fresh look as his original 1970’s sketches, but the staging is nonetheless dazzling with effectively haunting lighting and sound by David Hersey and Gregory Clarke respectively.
Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist assigned to unravel the reason for Alan’s shocking crime, is played by Richard Griffiths, Harry Potter’s uncle Vernon Dursley in the Potter film franchise. He is reprising his role from the London production, and although he was simply marvelous winning a Tony Award in 2006 as the professor in The History Boys, his approach here is a decidedly restrained naturalistic style with an internal focus. The result is a shut down Dysart trapped in his head, and the slant robs the character of his fury and menace.
A more stylized approach that taps into Dysart’s explosively tormenting conflict would give Radcliffe more to play off and go a long way to making the evening more combustible and exciting. As it turns out Radcliffe’s compelling Alan comes off intense but rather one dimensional and lacking depth. His eyes shorn of his Harry Potter glasses are illuminatingly blue, but they ultimately reveal a relatively innocent soul.
The lurid drama is being revived for the first time since winning the 1975 Tony Award for best play and running over 1200 performances on Broadway from 1974- 1977, a span that included star turns by Richard Burton and Anthony Perkins as the emotionally wrought psychiatrist. The story is basically a vehicle for two star performers, as the underlying characters are underdeveloped and used only as devices to shed light on the central characters or to move the conflict between them along.
Today Shaffer’s fictionalized tale based on a true story about a stable boy who blinded five horses with a metal spike feels decidedly dated. The play with imposed psycho babble about sexual transference and religious mysteries makes references to Jung and Freud without ever mentioning them.
The examination of the conflict between personal values and the need to satisfy our desires unfolds like a detective story with Dysart wrestling with his own sense of purpose while attempting to get Alan to reveal the unpleasant truth. The material remains disturbing without the weight of the playwright’s 1981 Tony award winning play Amadeus, which copped him an Oscar for best screenplay as well.
But oh those horses! They are the real stars of the evening, provocative and sensual, clad in skintight jodhpurs and elaborate metal heads with glowing eyes. Just try to keep to your eyes off them whenever they saunter on stage as the embodiment of pure sexuality.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
Equus opened on Broadway September 25, 2008 at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, for a limited run through February 4, 2009. For tickets visit telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.