Friday, September 26, 2008

No Horsing Around With Equus Critical Response

No Horsing Around With Equus Critical Response

Last evening, the second Broadway mounting of Peter Shaffer's Equus opened at squarely the Broadhurst Theatre. The Thea Sharrock-helmed transfer from London stars Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths. Overall, the critics were enamored with Radcliffe's turn, even if they found the material dated.

Concluding that Radcliffe's "delivery here is as confident and compelling as his febrile physicality -- whether fully clothed and wary or naked and defenseless," Variety's David Rooney asserts that the performances eclipse the material: "Daniel Radcliffe significantly helps overcome the fact that Peter Shaffer's 1975 Tony winner doesn't entirely hold up. The play is an astute career move for the 'Harry Potter' frontman as he confidently navigates the transition from child stardom to adult roles -- and Radcliffe's performance provides Equus with a raw emotional nerve center that renders secondary any concerns about its wonky and over-explanatory psychology."

While noting that Sharrock's direction "in many respects lacks the power that flowed through John Dexter's original staging," Clive Barnes of New York Post heaps praise on Radcliffe in his three out of four star review: "Despite his almost total lack of stage experience ... Radcliffe, with his luminously intense eyes and fragile but wiry body, looks wonderfully right as Alan, the 17-year-old British boy besotted by everything equine. His acting, beautifully understated and withdrawn, has just the right manner for this horribly mixed-up adolescent, at the prey of a wayward religiosity and a twisted sexuality cemented together with suburban hypocrisy."

Deeming this an "oddly arid revival," Ben Brantley of The New York Times delivers praise for the performers, while casting doubt on the show's premise: "Mr. Griffiths and Mr. Radcliffe ... are delivering utterly credible and often affecting performances. And I was always thoroughly engaged by their scenes together, which generate the genuine tension of clashing minds longing to meld. The problem with such well-considered acting is that it throws a clear and merciless light on the hokum of the play as a whole."

Ultimately proclaiming the production "haunting and powerful," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News applauds the performances, but also takes issue with the script in his three out of five star critique: "Yes, (Radcliffe)'s terrific and gives a passionate performance as Alan Strang, the 17-year-old stable hand who worships -- and blinds -- six horses. Yes, he's nude in a scene, but not gratuitously. And yes, he's (at least partially) in good company in the revival of Peter Shaffer's play, which intrigues but shows its age.

Calling this a "more than serviceable Broadway revival" that's "directed here a bit too flashily," The New York Sun's Eric Grode offers a mixed review: "It is ironic and a bit unfortunate, then, that Mr. Radcliffe's performance is by far the more controlled and Mr. Griffiths's the looser.... In general, however, Mr. Radcliffe accentuates the strains of evasion and scorn common to all adolescents without slighting the deeper veins of unrest. And even though Mr. Griffiths falls back on rumpled-academic shtick here and there -- with much rubbing of the eyes and scratching of the head as he ruminates -- he also gives Dysart a welcome burst of energy whenever his assumptions are jostled."

UPDATE (September 27, 2008, 11:10 p.m. EDT):

Calling the "work a team effort, a triumph even," Back Stage critic (and Clyde Fitch Report blogger) Leonard Jacobs writes: "Sometimes theatre professionals and audiences recall great original productions with an 'I was there, you weren't' mentality that excludes the unfortunate and the unborn.... [I]t's inevitable that director Thea Sharrock's stirring revival of Peter Shaffer's Equus will be compared with John Dexter's original 1974 staging of the play, for which Dexter and Shaffer won Tonys. But how wrong-headed it would be for this brooding, marvelous play and this revival's gifted lead actors to be viewed on anything but their own well-deserved terms.... As the play delves ever deeper into Strang and his psyche, Radcliffe visibly churns with the feelings erupting inside him. Here, too, Griffiths is gracious, almost loving toward his co-star."

I'll be taking in a performance over the next couple days and will let you know whether I share any of the critics' sentiments.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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