NY1 Theater Review: “Equus”
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When my mother took me to see the original production of “Equus,” it stayed with me for years. I was much too young to judge its merits, but I see now why the play had such an impact. It really is a mesmerizing work that reaches deep into the psyche.
Designed as a suspense yarn, it makes the most of theatrical conventions to question some of our most basic beliefs about sanity, religion and childhood influences.
The 35-year-old play certainly holds up today and thanks to a fine British revival, Peter Schaffer's remarkable drama remains essential Broadway viewing. Staged by Thea Sharrock, “Equus” remains a riveting synthesis of stage craft and theatrical vision.
“Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe, I'm happy to report, is not merely the stunt casting gimmick you might have expected. Making his stage debut, the 19-year-old movie star works some fine acting magic in the central role of Alan Strang, a seemingly gentle stable boy who viciously blinds six horses in his care.
Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths, in the role of psychiatrist Martin Dysart, have a keen rapport on stage that likely stems from their long working relationship in the “Harry Potter” films.
“Equus” is essentially a “whydunnit,” with Dysart methodically unraveling the facts in the case. Some minor changes in the production include a bit of tweaking in the script to give it a more contemporary feel, along with Griffith's dressed-down approach to what was a far more formal interpretation in the original.
Designer John Napier returns with a set quite similar to his original featuring those stunning giant metal horse heads worn by sleekly choreographed young men with nothing more suggestive than platform shoes resembling hooves. The stylized concept is extremely effective for a play with such universal appeal.
The performances range from the stellar two principal roles to some disappointing acting. The usually impeccable Kate Mulgrew goes way over the top in a frantic display that suggests her magistrate character needs some head shrinking herself.
Yet the play's virtues remain intact. As the good doctor measures his mundane existence against the impassioned impulses of his disturbed young patient, we find there's a little Dysart and Strang in all of us.
It's hard to match the exhilaration that greeted the original production. But this powerful revival still manages to stir a level of passion that only live theater can evoke.