BOTTOM LINE:If there is one thing that you do between now and February 8th it should be to go and see Equus. This is an absolutely stellar production. The acting is nothing short of superb. The direction is truly awe-inspiring. The movement direction is soul-shaking. The set, sound, and lighting design are striking, creative, and help to shape the story; perfect examples of what theatrical design is meant to do. Playwright Peter Shaffer’s play is surely just as relevant now as it was thirty-some years ago. The curiosity with understanding the human psyche–especially those that seem to be incomprehensible–is one that will tease the mind for all time.
Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) plays the troubled teenager Alan Strang, who brutally blinds six horses in a stable one night. Radcliffe gives a gripping performance. His full commitment to his character and his passion shine especially in the fearful scenes where the tortured memories of his youth and his troubled relationship with horses are recalled. I am always leery of seeing Broadway productions that boast Hollywood stars, for fear that the “name” and star-power to sell tickets is all that the producers had in mind when they decided to put said star’s name up in lights. Unfortunately the stage is not as happy a home for many great screen actors (who have little to no stage experience prior to their Broadway debut) as the silver screen is. Radcliffe however, demonstrates wonderful agility and versatility. He shows that he is much, much, more than Harry Potter.
The play unfolds as Strang's strange obsession with horses is dissected by his psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Griffiths). Griffiths won the Tony Award for Best Actor for his role in The History Boys, and he continues to dazzle and give another award-worthy performance in this role. He, along with the direction of Thea Sharrock, make Griffiths' direct addresses to the audience seem completely natural, private, and as if one is somehow in dialogue with his character. Never once does it seem “theatrical,” but rather incredibly personal and honest. He creates a caring relationship with the audience, almost as if he is the patient and we the audience are his therapists, investing our own lives deep into this story.
The set design by John Napier, reflects this feeling by including audience seating right on the stage. The seats, high atop the stable-like set, could be eavesdroppers in the hayloft, or could be observers sitting in the observation deck of a hospital room. His simple design (four black blocks are the only scenery) shows that less truly is more. The design of the horse costumes and masks is absolutely breath-taking. Not only do the abstract heads and hooves inspire the imagination, but the flawless movement (movement direction by Fin Walker) that is exhibited by the actors playing them is amazing.
Kate Mulgrew plays Hesther Saloman, the woman responsible for bringing Strang to Dysart’s care; she delivers a performance worth mentioning as well. She and Griffiths share a chemistry and rapport that bring warmth, depth, and levity to all of their scenes together. Another actor that deserves mention is Lorenso Pisoni as both The Young Horseman and Nugget (the lead horse). As the Young Horseman, Pisoni is charming and heroic. It is easy to see why the young Strang is so mesmerized by horse and rider. As Nugget, Pisoni is so precise in his horse-like actions, both physically and psychologically, that he literally transforms into the equine beast on stage. Even though all six horses are costumed the same, Pisoni’s unmatched specificity makes it is easy to spot which horse is Nugget every time. There is no doubt that this production would be far less remarkable without Pisoni’s strength, commitment to character, and pure magic that he delivers on that stage.
Although this review comes to you late, please take these next two weeks as an opportunity to see one of the most satisfying productions Broadway has given us in years. Sharrock’s Equus is enigmatic, moving, and a prime example of the artform at it’s very best.
(Equus plays through February 8th at The Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. The show runs 2 hrs and 35 mins with one 15 min intermission. Performances are Tuesday at 7:00pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm. Tickets range from $66.50-$116.50. Stage seating is available for $61.50 for Wednesday matinees and $76.50 for Tuesday through Thursday evenings, and Saturday and Sunday matinees. It's also occassionally listed at TKTS. For more info visit equusonbroadway.com.)