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equusMuch of the buzz surrounding the revival of Equus revolves around the Broadway debut of Daniel Radcliffe, best known for his Harry Potter role in the very successful series of movies. I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie, but I was excited to see the play itself for a different reason. I saw the original production, which had come to Broadway after it had premiered in London back in 1973. The other lead role, that of psychiatrist Martin Dysart, was originated on Broadway by Anthony Hopkins, who gave a dynamic and memorable performance, and was later played by Richard Burton, who recreated the role for the film version.

I still think of the play as one of those thrilling theatrical experiences you never forget, and I was fortunate to see both Hopkins and Burton onstage. I eagerly looked forward to this revival, and the play, along with Radcliffe, came through with flying colors and did not disappoint. I wish I remembered more details about the original, and I don’t know if any production of Equus can quite match it, but the revival reinforces the brilliance of Peter Shaffer’s remarkable play, and it remains a stunningly theatrical work.

Equus tells the story of a seventeen-year-old stable boy, played by Radcliffe, who has committed the shocking crime of blinding six horses, animals that we learn he had truly worshiped, in the stable where he works. He is brought to a clinic where the psychiatrist, played by the fine actor Richard Griffiths, a recent Tony Award winner for his performance in The History Boys, tries to unravel the question of what led this boy to commit such an act. We know the crime, and there is no question who committed it. The play is a thriller about why he did it. In the process, Equus deals with a lot of themes, including passion, religion, and sexual issues, to name a few.

The psychiatrist has his own struggles, and, in part, he envies the stable boy’s passion, something missing from the psychiatrist’s life; he recognizes that, in curing the boy, he will probably, in the process, take that passion right out of the young man’s life. It is a fascinating subject, and it is done with such a heightened sense of pure theatricality that it remains a wonderful evening of pure theater. The sets, the staging, and the overall production are simple but effective. There is some effective background music that contributes nicely to creating an atmosphere of eerie dramatic tension.

The casting in this revival has, perhaps, slightly shifted some of the emphasis. Hopkins and Burton were so commanding as the psychiatrist Dysart that they dominated the production. Thus, it took me a while to warm to Richard Griffiths. He is a strong actor and delivers a first-rate performance, but it does not quite measure up to my memories of his predecessors. So, even more weight in this production is on the Alan Strang role, and Radcliffe makes a terrific New York stage debut. He captures all of Alan’s confusion, passion, anger, rebelliousness, and mercurial combativeness. His body language properly conveys the awkwardness of the character, and his performance in the climactic scenes at the end of each act brought the right combination of excitement and drama to both of them. These scenes remain examples of theater at its most thrilling level. Young Mr. Radcliffe is an impressive stage actor, and I hope we see more theater roles in his future.

Kate Mulgrew, Lorenzo Pisoni, Carolyn McCormick, and Anna Camp were all fine, even if not quite memorable, in important supporting roles. Actors portray the horses and, trust me, it works, and their movement and presence are well done and fascinating to watch.

The original Equus may never quite be matched, but this revival is riveting and mesmerizing; Radcliffe is superb, and Equus still is brilliant theater and a work of art not to be missed. - Jim Miller

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Mr. Miller is a former Showtime exec who has spent many an evening transfixed by the bright lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway.

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