I liked the horses. The long-to-arrive climactic scene of the second act is powerful. Otherwise this Broadway revival of Peter Shaffer's 1973 psychodrama is dull, despite the chilling central story about a 17-year-old stable boy who unexpectedly gouges out the eyes of six horses with a pick used to clean their hoofs.
Having not seen the original, I was always curious about whether this play had a lot of substance beyond the creepy plot. I can’t say I found much, although stage newcomer Daniel Radcliffe gave am impressive performance as Alan Strang, the troubled young man.
It is the first act that I found most problematic, at least in this production. Tony and Olivier Award winner Richard Griffiths didn’t seem really present to his role as Martin Dysart, the doctor treating Alan at a psychiatric hospital in southern England. Dysart calls his self-indulgent ramblings “professional menopause.” Good word choice because menopause is a drag and the first act is a talky 80-minutes that didn’t engage me.
That is, except for when the horses were on stage. Director Thea Sharrock has created eery stylized scenes with the animals, played effectively by six tall, well-built men in brown pants and skintight brown T-shirts (costumes by John Napier). They wear metal cage-like horse heads and prance around on metal hooves. Their scenes are expressionistic and exciting, in large measure thanks to lighting designer David Hersey who creates a dark, dangerous mood throughout much of the production. I predict a Tony for him.
And while’s Hersey’s lighting dramatizes the horses, it gives a secretive feel to the nude scene between Radcliffe and Anna Camp, who plays Jill Mason, a young woman who begins a sexual encounter with Alan in the barn.
The nude scene is probably the best proof that Radcliffe -- widely known for his starring role in the "Harry Potter" movies -- has a promising future in the theatre. In this his Broadway debut, he seems at home on the stage throughout the play, even stark naked before 1,000 people. (Radcliffe and Griffiths did, however, have a nice trial run before opening in New York, playing to sold-out crowds early last year at London’s 's Gielgud Theatre.)
Equus (the Latin word for horse) originally opened on Broadway in October 1974 and won the 1975 Tony for Best Play, going on the run for 1,209 performances. The current production, scheduled to run at the Broadhurst Theatre through Feb. 8, 2009, is the show's first Broadway revival. Playwright Shaffer is also the author of Amadeus, Lettice and Lovage and other works.