Thursday, September 25, 2008
EQUUS incorporates at least six major elements, intricately and elegantly intertwined.
• The basic plot driver: Why did the boy blind six horses?
• The philosophical, psychological question: The conflict between human need for extreme passion (even if pathological) and health (even if absent any passion).
• The substitution of horses for male-female (and male-male) eroticism.
• Sadomasochistic and other extreme expressions of religious passion.
• The theatricality of the stylistic staging with men in brown body suits, wearing beautifully constructed and strikingly lit wire horse heads, playing the horses.
• And also nudity. Complete male and female nudity that was extremely daring when the play was first staged. Less so now, but heightened by the fact that in this production the nude 17 year old boy is played by Harry Potter (aka Daniel Radcliff).
EQUUS was written by Peter Shaffer and has had many successful revivals after a very successful initial run. It opened for previews in NY on Sep 5th, and the official opening is Sep 25th.
As most everyone knows, Daniel Radcliff (aka Harry Potter) is playing Alan. He is a boy whose crime of blinding six horses is being investigated by Dysart, a psychiatrist played by Richard Griffiths, (aka Dursley in the Potter films, and also known for "The History Boys") who is fascinated by the pagan passion possessed by Alan.
EQUUS (Latin for horse) is a play that also deals in themes of equi-sexuality (man-horse love) and equi-religiousity (horse as god).
The part of Alan, in addition to being required to make credible his insanity and his passions, also requires extensive and complete nudity. Radcliffe is just about perfect in the role. It is sensational, on-the-money acting.
Richard Griffiths, as the psychiatrist, and Anna Camp as Jill, Alan's friend, are also excellent.
The challenge in producing or directing the play, in addition to realizing the part of Alan, is to understand Dysart, who is arguably an even more important character than Alan. The problem is that we understand that Dysart is torn between his job of returning Alan to normalcy, and his fear that he is thereby taking away Alan's most essential passions. But it is not clear that he ever comes to catharsis or satisfying resolution of his dilemma.
For me, the major structural problem in the play is that it never addresses the legal fate of Alan after Dysart's treatment of him has completed. What are the stakes? Does Alan escape jail and have a chance to live a normal life if he is cured? Or is he then sent to prison for his crime stripped (as Dysart would say) of his passions. What might become of Alan is critical to understanding how important Dysart’s treatment is, and what its goals might be. It would be quite different depending on whether, after successful treatment, Alan would still end up in jail, or committed to an insane asylum, or be free and able to live a normal life.
This is a classic play, and a fine production: well acted, well directed, and staged with great style. Questions about the interpretation of the performances and of the play itself are part of the power of EQUUS.
(Note about the theater: It is time for Broadway theaters in general, and the Majestic in particular, to give each seat more room (people must be bigger now than when the theater was built), and expand the capacity of the rest rooms (which failed to service everyone needing them during the intermission). The theater seats are nicely raked, and there is no trouble seeing over the people in front (except when they stand prematurely to applaud). There are two rows of seating behind and over the stage. The first of these rows seems like they have a fine view; I'm not so sure about the second row. When it is raining, the theater should be able to let the audience in early, rather than letting them gather outside and beyond the overhang getting wet in the rain until the normal time to open the theater.)