Equus

  • Date:
    September 1, 2008
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.


    A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    In his book, "Love's Executioner," Stanford University psychiatrist Irvin Yalom explains that "I do not like to work with patients who are in love�because love and psychotherapy are fundamentally incompatible. The good therapist fights darkness and seeks illumination, while romantic love is sustained by mystery and crumbles upon inspection. I hate to be love's executioner."

    Prominent psychiatrist, Dr. Martin Dysart, hates it as well when he realizes he must do just that in order to treat Alan Strang, a disturbed teenager who inexplicably blinds six horses with a metal spike. In this brilliant new production of Peter Shaffer's 1974 play, "Equus," Daniel Radcliffe, known to the world as Harry Potter, plays Alan with both physical and emotional abandon, taking risks that elevates his performance to above-the-title marquis status.

    Determining the motives for this horrendous crime becomes Dysart's mission, and together he and Alan embark upon a journey of trust and mistrust, delving deeper into each other's psyche, as each traverses the dark emotional pathways that must be illuminated if either is to survive.

    Raised in a household devoid of joy, in which his mother's religious fanaticism is as intense as his father's atheistic detachment, Alan learns to fear god and people equally. Needing an outlet for his awakening sexual feelings, and unable to talk to his father, he turns his passion to horses, and they become his obsession. On the fatal night that Jill, the young stablewoman, seductively leads Alan into the barn for entry into the mysteries of sex, Alan's confused passions conflict in mythic proportions and all hell breaks loose.

    Richard Griffiths, Tony-winning actor for "The History Boys," is perfectly cast as the fatherly psychiatrist. Having played Harry Potter's Uncle Vernon in all the movies, Griffiths naturally provides a warm and protective covering for Radcliffe in his first demanding stage role. And because of this relationship, the emotion Dysart displays when he talks about his own barren existence in a loveless marriage, and the pain he feels when he must destroy Alan's passion -- unable to replace it with anything meaningful -- is palpable.

    In the small but important role of Jill, Anna Camp gives an uninhibited performance as she lures Alan into the barn, making Kate Mulgrew's uptight portrayal of the court magistrate, Hesther, all the more striking. Remembering Mulgrew in "Iphigenia 2.0" as the ferocious Clytemnestra, it's disappointing to see her play a role that calls on so little of her talent.

    Carolyn McCormick, ironically known for her stint as the psychiatrist on "Law and Order" is excellent as Dora, the frightened and misguided mother who fills her son's head with Biblical terror. Opposite her is T. Ryder Smith convincingly playing the father who could never quite relate to his weird son.

    But it's the majestic larger-than-life horses with their metal-wire heads and hooves that create the canopy of unrelieved tension in the play and provide the framework and structure for Radcliffe and Griffiths to display their prodigious acting gifts.

    In the original notes to the play, Shaffer tells us "Equus" is based on a true story that so upset him, he felt compelled to create a mental world in which the deed could be made comprehensible. If the play is at all outdated now, it's only because it leaves many questions unanswered, ones that would be an essential part of today's psychiatric explorations. Pitting Alan's frenzied behavior against Dysart's dispassionate and restrained professionalism provides the pivotal conflict in the play, and we are left wondering if it's really a cure for Alan's illness he seeks, or salvation for his own soul -- a question, incidentally, that Yalom has asked himself in his excellent book of case studies.

    In "Equus," Shaffer has created a shimmering piece of theater that deals with sexual awakening, passion, love, religion, and the darkness of the human psyche, and in so doing, has given us a classic piece of work that crackles in both language and ideas, and provides with the Greek ideal of catharsis. "Equus" is a don't miss.

    Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus



    What the press had to say.....

    "Making his Broadway debut in Thea Sharrock�s oddly arid revival of Peter Shaffer�s �Equus,� .., the 19-year-old film star Daniel Radcliffe steps into a mothball-preserved, off-the-rack part and wears it like a tailor�s delight � that is, a natural fit that allows room to stretch. Would that the production around him, first presented in London, showed off Mr. Shaffer�s 1973 psychodrama as flatteringly as it does its stage-virgin star."
    Ben Brantley
    New York Times

    "..Daniel Radcliffe, the marquee man-boy and the reason "Equus" has trotted back to Broadway. Yes, he's terrific and gives a passionate performance as Alan Strang,.. Yes, he's nude in a scene, but not gratuitously. And yes, he's (at least partially) in good company in the revival of Peter Shaffer's play, which intrigues but shows its age."
    Joe Dziemianowicz
    New York Daily News

    "Despite his almost total lack of stage experience...Radcliffe, with his luminously intense eyes and fragile but wiry body, looks wonderfully right as Alan, the 17-year-old British boy besotted by everything equine. His acting, beautifully understated and withdrawn, has just the right manner for this horribly mixed-up adolescent."
    Clive Barnes
    New York Post

    "It's old news by now that young Daniel Radcliffe gets naked during "Equus," but the "Harry Potter" film idol bravely and believably exposes his character's troubled soul as well in a smashing Broadway debut. Bolstered by co-star Richard Griffiths' easy expertise, Radcliffe peels away the emotional levels of the tormented yet ultimately touching stableboy, Alan Strang, with skill and unmistakable stage presence."
    Michael Sommers
    Star-Ledger

    "Some plays read well but play poorly; "Equus," specious as literature, is nevertheless dazzling theater." & "There is something here for everybody -- except the hapless few who expect honest playwriting." & " Radcliffe's Alan is compelling proof that there is life after wizardry: he quells and quakes, adores horses and provokes humans with equal proficiency and looks great disrobed."
    John Simon
    Bloomberg

    "It's a credit to Radcliffe, his estimable co-star Richard Griffiths and director Thea Sharrock that this Equus transcends the more frustrating elements of the text. In less able hands, Dysart and Alan might be written off as another gifted but troubled shrink and his gifted but troubled charge, but Griffiths and Radcliffe give them rich, real inner lives."
    Elysa Gardner
    USA Today

    "Equus is a dramatic symphony scintillatingly played." & "Griffiths is gracious, almost loving toward his co-star (Radcliffe). Their work is a team effort, a triumph even..,
    Leonard Jacobs
    Back Stage

    "Radcliffe gives a promisingly competent, if not compelling, performance as Alan Strang" & "Unfortunately, "Equus" itself has aged less gracefully. Even the marvelous Richard Griffiths, playing the lead role of Martin Dysart, Alan�s troubled psychiatrist, can�t hide the cracks."
    Robert Feldberg
    The Record

    "Let's get to the reason you folks bought tickets: Daniel Radcliffe in the nude. And yes, he can act on stage � quite well, it turns out. The screen star of all those "Harry Potter" movies brings a disarming vulnerability and touching desperation to the role of Alan Strang."
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "This revival of Peter Shaffer's landmark 1973 play doesn't manage to bring sufficient life to what is a now-dated and often-plodding psychological drama." & "The young actor (Readcliffe) displays a confident physical presence .. and intensity. But he doesn't quite manage to fully plumb the disturbed depths of the character." Frank Scheck
    The Hollywood Reporter

    "In his impressive debut in a major stage role, as the disturbed adolescent in "Equus," Daniel Radcliffe significantly helps overcome the fact that Peter Shaffer's 1975 Tony winner doesn't entirely hold up." & "Radcliffe's performance provides "Equus" with a raw emotional nerve center that renders secondary any concerns about its wonky and over-explanatory psychology."
    David Rooney
    Variety