Equus

October 1, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Posted in art, movies, theater | 2 Comments

Saw the revival of Equus last night with Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths, two actors of Harry Potter fame. Haunting performances given by both, but the show as a whole was brilliantly directed by Thea Shaddock and designed by John Napier. Opening to great reviews, my mother and I decided to go for her birthday, and we were both glad we did. Here’s to Orgconfuz’s first theater review!

Equus

A 17-year-old disturbed stablehand named Alan Strang is charged with the blinding of six horses. Before he is given a trial, Alan’s lawyer sends him to a trusted colleague and psychiatrist, Dr. Dysart, for psychological examination. What drove him to do this? Through their sessions, we become engrossed in a Why-dunnit? mystery where Alan’s relationship to these horses builds and gradually unfolds to a shocking conclusion. At times, Dysart serves as a narrator, describing his attempt to put together this psychotic puzzle, all the while envying the passion created by a defiant and complex teenager. Dysart’s treatment methods allow for Strang to reveal and act out intimate monologues to him and the audience with great dramatic effect.

Originally produced on Broadway in 1974, Equus won the Tony for Best Play and Best Direction by John Dexter and starred Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Dysart. Written by Peter Shaffer, who also penned “Amadeus”, who hesitated allowing this play to be revived on a large scale. Inspired by a single detail of a true crime, Shaffer was compelled to create a mental world in which such acts are comprehensible. He never confirmed a full recount of the orginal crime, which according to Radcliffe included 26 horses. This heinous act shocked a bench of magistrates and ultimately “lacked any coherent explanation.” Shaffer was grateful for this allowed for his own greater exploration and interpretation in a very personal way.

Shaffer was also fascinated by the contrasting ways in which audiences connected with Equus. “In England, there was an outcry over the perceived cruelty to horses. In America, I was accused of cruelty to psychiatrists. In England in the 1970s, if you said you were seeing a psychiatrist, people would automatically assume that you were bonkers. But in New York, analysis was the new religion. I’ve heard of priests who came to doubt their faith but I’ve never heard of psychiatrists expressing doubts about the validity of their credo. When the American audience saw Dysart become increasingly critical of his own profession and heard him express doubts about its efficacy, they were shocked. They laughed at the jokes about psychiatrists in slightly guilty sniggers, as if they were schoolchildren hearing their martinet of a headmaster being sent up.”

Because of what he felt were “dated psychological practices” he was reluctant reviving the play. “Martin Dysart is one doctor in one hospital, and I take responsibility for him, as I do his patient. It is now time – 35 years since it first made such a stir – that it might still be found relevant and indeed welcome.” The revival began last year in London’s West End, directed by Thea Shaddock and designed by John Napier who also designed the original 1974 production. Equus opened last Thursday Sept 25 at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theater on 44th Street. My mom and I decided that a Tuesday evening performance would probably be our best shot in making sure that no understudies would be used (as Monday is the universal day off for theater.)

Griffiths as Dr. Dysart, Radcliffe as Alan Strang and Lorenzo Pisoni as Nugget, the Horse. Click here for Broadway.com's Word of Mouth Video Feature (spoilers!)

Horseheads as props and costumes, made of twisted metal that shined bright in the spotlights, added to the foreboding ambience throughout the play, as well as Fin Walker’s percussive choreography made by the horseshoe shaped lifts. (Did I mention I loved the horses? 🙂 ) The use of a rounded mostly bare stage allowed for circular movement, which the director often used to her advantage. Only four blocks positioned by the actors indicated the setting of a scene. Because it was set up like a theatre in the round, the set even had a mezzanine on top of the stage itself! I noticed while buying tickets that people purchasing these seats were instructed to dress in neutral or black clothing – apparently the girl in the bright green dress didn’t read the fine print. Though I’m sure those audience members thought they were getting a better experience by being above the stage, the catch was that they had to lean over to try get the full effect and missed out on the columns directly below which used primarily as the stable door openings. Mom and I had a pretty great view in the actual mezzanine, so I recommend trying for middle seats or on the aisles of the left or right mezz where we were happily seated. From our vantage voint, the stage mezzanine added an observational element to the action, as if we were watching a lecture (or an execution) taking place. The production design was top notch!

The above photo comes from a New York Times Review featuring an Audio Slideshow, narrated by director Thea Sharrock and includes the eerily moving score. Reminiscent of the death scene in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juilet, its operatic requiem tones provide a dream-like underscore to the play. I’d almost want to buy the soundtrack, but under what circumstances would I listen to it again? It’s beautiful, but so unsettling.

As far as the nudity goes, it really is just part of the role. Shaffer told the New York Post that he was less than impressed to find his work overshadowed by the reaction to Radcliffe’s nudity. “I was irritated that people talked on and on about it. It was so infantile. In the papers, I was always reading about how Harry Potter is ‘waving his other wand’. There is a great deal more going on in the play, you know. I’m not writing porn, for God’s sake!”

If you get a chance to see Daniel Radcliffe in his limited engagement here on Broadway, I highly recommend it. Rumor has it that Jamie Bell will replace Radcliffe once he begins filming the first installment of HP and the Deathly Hallows. It has been reported that this role endangered his contract for the Harry Potter series, that people would lose their sense of innocence. But Daniel refuted these claims, saying that the studio has been nothing but supportive. Radcliffe has currently signed for the final two films for a paltry sum of $50 million dollars. But I digress…

Admittedly, it was nice to get a small Radcliffe fix after HP and the Half Blood Prince was delayed until next summer. I congratulate him on a job well done, and look forward to his growth as an actor. Sidenote: No pun intended, but he was shorter than I imagined while signing autographs, even on stage. In an interview, he spoke about meeting Seth Green for the first time. He said that when meeting celebrities, there are certain things that you try to avoid saying. However when Radcliffe walked up to him he said, “Hi! You’re tiny like me!” Extensibily, his height has kept him a star, otherwise he would have literally outgrown the character for which he is famous. He even admitted in response to a false rumor he had grown 8 inches in two months that he thanks his mom for being 5 feet tall!

RATING: *****/5
Recommendation: They should film this and sell the DVD. On the off chance that they don’t, try to catch it with Daniel Radcliffe’s superb performance.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Thanks for your review of the play! I saw it last Friday and really enjoyed it a lot, too.

    As to Jamie Bell replacing Dan Radcliffe, not sure where that rumor came from, but it’s untrue. Filming on the final Harry Potter films was scheduled specifically to coincide with the end of the run of Equus on Broadway — the play closes on Feb. 4, 2009, and filming on Harry Potter commences within about a week or so. So Dan will be playing Alan Strang for the play’s entire run. A very good thing, if I am any kind of judge of performance. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the update, Robin! Maybe I was reading about the London production with Jamie Bell… in either case, I’m glad that Dan chose this vehicle to show us what he is capable of!


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