Seen on Broadway: Daniel Radcliffe is naked in Equus, but David Hersey’s strategic lighting ensures that he leaves the stage with his dignity intact. I’ve only seen Sidney Lumet’s 1977 film version of Peter Shaffer’s 1973 stage hit, which is receiving its first Broadway revival after a sell-out West End engagement. An entirely naturalistic movie, with co-stars Peter Firth and Jenny Agutter plainly exposed for several minutes toward the end of the film. The duration is about the same for Radcliffe and Anna Camp, the difference being that the Broadhurst stage is moodily dark and Hersey has dappled them in patterned lighting, as the sequence (conveyed under hypnosis by Radcliffe’s emotionally troubled character) reaches a frenzy of abstraction. You concentrate more on the 19-year-old Harry Potter in his stage debut than you do on his, ahem, magic wand.
In the Playbill, Shaffer notes his hesitation over reviving the piece, thinking it might be dated. He was right: The show’s psycho-dramatic conflicts, as a burned-out shrink fears he might be destroying his troubled young patient (an equine worshipper who has blinded six horses in a mysterious rage) in order to save him, smells of mothballs. Indeed, a British friend said American audiences who were already thoroughly plugged into analysis by then probably found the production dated in the early 1970s. But Shaffer was also right to allow it go forward, under the confident direction of Thea Sharrock. Thirty-five years later, Equus remains an absorbing, if pretentious, mystery, with explosive revelations involving religious guilt, adolescent sexual exploration, and adult hypocrisy that detonate at the climax of each of its two acts.
The horses, led by Lorenzo Pisoni (in two roles, as a horseman and the stallion Nugget), are the most arresting element of John Napier’s set and costume design. Napier did double duty on the original production, and has refined his work. The male actors cantering about the stage in flashbacks (Fin Walker is credited for movement) are outfitted in metallic equine masks and hooves, which glint in the light. The heads have small flashing lights for eyes, which on paper flirts with ridiculousness but is effective once implemented. Napier’s set, a classically-inspired arena with Stonehenge-like blocks the performers position for chairs and to create different environments (a porn theatre is the most inspired) is awkwardly buttressed by onstage balcony seating. By the end of each act, as Hersey’s lighting and fog effects blanket the set and Gregory Clarke’s sound is going full tilt, no one with any horse sense should be up there. Equus plays through Feb.8.
Scenery: Hudson Scenic Studio, Inc.
Lighting: PRG Lighting
Audio: Sound Associates
Horse Costumes: Izquierdo
Horse Footwear: Sharlot Baton of Montana Leatherworks