September 26, 2008

‘Equus': Radcliffe Revealed As a Serious Actor

By Elysa Gardner

NEW YORK -- The good and bad news about the new Broadway revival of Equus (*** out of four) with Daniel Radcliffe is that the actor is aging a lot more gracefully than the play.

In this London-based production, which opened Thursday at the Broadhurst Theatre, the Harry Potter star puts to rest any arguments that his appeal should be limited to moony adolescents and maudlin grown-ups. If only the same could be said for Peter Shaffer's 35-year-old drama.

Shaffer's account of a 17-year-old who blinds six horses in a fit of sexual and spiritual agony and the psychiatrist who tends to his tortured soul is undeniably seductive in its use of words and imagery. But it's riddled with cliches and specious suggestions about the human mind and spirit.

Alan Strang is presented as a victim of both repressive forces and his own acute emotions and probing imagination. In treating him, Dr. Martin Dysart worries that he'll "stamp out" these qualities and make "a ghost" of the boy.

"Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor; it cannot be created," Dysart tells us. It's a catchy line, but isn't a therapist's job to help patients better understand and channel their passions, however brilliant or disturbed?

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.

The younger actor evinces Alan's shield of precocity and hostility, then movingly reveals the tender wounds beneath it. Griffiths' stringent Dysart defies the sentimentality woven into the heavier passages, enhancing the production's authority and dignity.

Kate Mulgrew puts a stentorian spin on Hesther Saloman, the magistrate who brings Alan to Dysart's attention, and Carolyn McCormick has a few near-hysterical moments as the boy's devout, distraught mother. As Alan's dad, T. Ryder Smith delivers a more grounded, accessible performance, as does the fetching Anna Camp, playing a young woman who tries to lure Alan into adulthood.

But the most sensually evocative moments involve the horses, played by a group of fittingly studly men led by Lorenzo Pisoni as Alan's favorite, Nugget. Sporting leather-and-aluminum helmets, mimicking equine elegance via Fin Walker's robust choreography, they are hypnotic, haunting figures, more beautiful and ominous than any phrase in the script.

If Equus doesn't share their unmannered grandeur, at least this staging pays homage to it. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>