September 26, 2008 / 1:41 AM / 11 years ago

"Equus" offers young star, dated premise

Director Thea Sharrock arrives to attend opening night of the play "Equus" at the Broadhurst Theater in New York September 25, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

“Equus” (Broadhurst Theatre, New York; through Feb. 4)

By Frank Scheck

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Considering that its attractions include a totally naked Harry Potter and the first New York stage appearance by Richard Griffiths since his Tony-winning turn in “The History Boys,” there’s no doubt that “Equus” will be a Broadway box-office bonanza.

Unfortunately, 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.

For most theatergoers, the immediate subject of interest for this production — which has been imported here after a hit London run — will be how Daniel Radcliffe fares in his theatrical debut. The answer is, well enough. Playing Alan Strang, the tormented 17-year-old who commits the horrific crime of blinding six horses, the young actor displays a confident physical presence — all too necessary, considering the length of his Act 2 nude scene — and intensity. But he doesn’t quite manage to fully plumb the disturbed depths of the character, as Peter Firth did so brilliantly in the original production and 1977 film version.

As Martin Dysart, the provincial psychiatrist who reluctantly agrees to treat the young man at the urging of a sympathetic magistrate (Kate Mulgrew), Griffiths is deeply disappointing. The role has been a vehicle for triumphant turns from actors ranging from Anthony Hopkins to Richard Burton. But Griffiths, whose rotundity robs the proceedings of its homoerotic undertones, barely seems to register, failing to convey Dysart’s underlying despair about his own emotionally barren life that causes him to envy his patient for his passion.

Director Thea Sharrock’s staging is similarly listless, resulting in an evening that feels far longer than its two hour, 40-minute running time. She was smart enough to recruit the services of original designer John Napier, whose wooden amphitheater-style setting and giant metal heads for the six strapping actors playing Alan’s equine victims are again effective. But the lack of dramatic pacing proves deadly, and the overwrought staging of the blinding scene, which resembles a Martha Graham ballet gone wild, is more laughable than frightening.

The supporting players, including Carolyn McCormick and T. Ryder Smith as Alan’s repressed parents and Anna Camp as the young woman whose ill-fated seduction sets the horrifying events in motion, are quite good. But the play itself, trafficking in ‘70s-era, R.D. Laing-inspired ideas about psychotherapy, feels even more dated than it need be in this less-than-compelling rendition.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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