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jazzonia ([personal profile] jazzonia) wrote2008-09-28 03:12 pm
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Equus Review

Equus, a play by Peter Shaffer staged at the Shubert Theatre, is a psychological thriller that is a welcome addition to Broadway. The production, which opened on September 25th, is produced by The Shubert Organization, directed by Thea Sharrock, and stage managed by Susie Cordon and Allison Sommers.

Richard Griffiths is excellent as psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who is assigned to treat Alan Strang. The boy had blinded six horses, and as Dysart finds out more about Alan's horse-worshipping, he grows quite jealous. Near the end of the play, Dysart admits that his controlled, educated life is nothing compared to Alan's passionate, albeit twisted, existence. Dysart closes Equus, detailing Alan's future as a ghost of a man devoid of both pain and passion. Griffiths' performance during this monologue is the most moving part of the entire show, delivered with poise and desperation. Though his volume was at times sub-par, it is clear that Griffiths is one of the best actors in modern theatre.

Griffiths' performance carries an otherwise average cast; his steadfastness anchors the polarity of his colleagues, particularly severe Kate Mulgrew (Hesther Saloman) and waifish Carolyn McCormick (Dora Strang). Lorenzo Pisoni (Young horseman / Nugget) demonstrated remarkable physical control, switching from rider to horse and back again during a flashback to Alan's first experience with horses. He also plays the feature horse, Nugget, upon whom Alan imposes his psycho-sexual worship tendencies. Pisoni's physical control easily convinces audiences that he is a horse or rider, and paired with a clever turntable, remarkably stimulates a horse's gait. T. Ryder Smith is unremarkable as Alan's father, Frank Strang, with a believable, but forgettable, performance.

Daniel Radcliffe, a nineteen-year-old Briton of Harry Potter fame, has made a surprisingly successful transition from film to theatre. His physical performance was one of absolute self-control. His blocking and movement were severe; rapid pacing and sudden leaps were common. His presence was commanding despite his small stature. He stalked around the stage with tightly hunched shoulders and sudden bursts of movement, tendencies that also manifested in his jarring speech. His wildness is especially evident when juxtaposed with Griffiths' stoic presence. The best example of this is the end of Act Two, when his much-discussed nude scene culminated in his blinding six horses with a hoof pick, while immovable Griffiths punctuated the scene with narration. While his physical performance was excellent, Radcliffe has not fully shaken his over-the-top film tendencies. He had no problem delivering comedic lines, but when actual acting was called for, he gave a one-dimensional, somewhat flat performance. Acting for film and acting in theatre are incredibly different, but surely experience will teach Radcliffe the nuances that will make his performance more believable.

Radcliffe's and Griffiths' dynamic chemistry is apparent, particularly when they share a smoke at the opening of Act Two and give the audience some much-needed comic relief. His performance was not outstanding, but for a young man who has struggled to escape from a children's film series, Radcliffe is well on his way to a promising theatre career.

The dancers playing the six horses truly set the mood of the play. Their perfectly synchronized movements, especially the ominous marching, give the audience a better glimpse into Alan's mind than Radcliffe ever could. The choreography of the horses' dance in Act Two is marvelous, both because of the dancers' individual skill and the overall "bird's nest" effect that is created. The metal headdresses are captivating under the masterful lighting design of Ted Mather, alternately entrancing and terrifying the audience.

Mather's lighting design was the most technically masterful part of Equus. Highlights include: the ominous preset; the straw effect created by checkerboard gobos in Act Two; and the strobe effect during Alan's rampage in the barn, also in Act Two. The set was simplistic but effective, especially the turntable that spun rapidly at the end of Act One to stimulate a horse's galloping. The show's score was similarly understated; the crescendos in E minor that opened and closed the acts were nothing short of chilling. Drumming during action scenes, especially the ends of the acts, perfectly underscored Alan's twisted deeds.

"Essentially I do not know what I do, but what I do is essential." Equus is a psychological thriller that raises uncomfortable questions about passion, religion, and the dangers of one's own mind. Its simple language and vivid imagery let the questions it raises speak for themselves. At the jarring close of Act Two, audiences will receive a catharsis unlike anything felt before or since. Shaffer's brilliant piece of literature has been revived by a mix of old favorites and fresh faces to Broadway, paired with innovative designers and masterful technicians, to create this must-see hit.

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