Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe in Equus
(© Carol Rosegg)
Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe in Equus
(© Carol Rosegg)
Plays are written to be performed. But there are playwrights who consciously or unconsciously rely on performance and production to gloss over script deficiencies. Some of that goes on in Thea Sharrock's stunning Broadway revival of Peter Shaffer's 1973 work, Equus. Not only is the John Napier set design elegant, but the entire presentation vibrates with urgency. It's extraordinarily well-acted by Tony-Award winner Richard Griffiths as the troubled psychiatrist Martin Dysart and stage novice Daniel Radcliffe as the even more troubled 17-year-old Alan Strang, who has been institutionalized after putting out the eyes of six horses in the stable where he works.

In a show that's all about the eyes, it's only fitting that Radcliffe -- minus the nerdish Harry Potter specs -- turns out to have eyes that pierce their way to the auditorium's nether recesses. Moreover, he plays Strang as a wire so tightly pulled that he constantly seems about to snap. Minus his clothes for the famous (and extended) nude scene, he's completely immersed in his character's heart-wrenching dilemma.

However, Shaffer -- a master of crafting a drama into which the occasional beam of humor breaks -- is only partly intent on untying the resistant Alan's debilitating psychological knot. Besides handling that conundrum, he's examining Dysart's personal crisis as a man in the process of expunging a young man's passions while convinced he's lived a life without passions of his own.

With the expertise of a master film editor, he also splices the pair's therapy sessions with exchanges between Dysart and local magistrate and good friend Hesther Salomon (an intense Kate Mulgrew), visits to and from Alan's baffled and ideologically opposed parents, Dora and Frank (Carolyn McCormick and T. Ryder Smith), flashbacks to Alan's eventually damaging dalliance with co-stable worker Jill Mason (Anna Camp), and one significant flashback to Alan's first encounter with a horse and gallant rider (Lorenzo Pisoni).

There are also numerous crucial sequences -- including a thrilling, though disturbing, first-act Flying by Foy finale -- featuring six actors (including the extraordinarily athletic Pisoni as favored horse Nugget), for which Napier has fashioned gleaming metal horse heads and footwear and for which Fin Walker has coordinated the convincing equine movement.

Where Shaffer -- who mentions in a program note that he fears the play has dated -- runs into problems is with the negative views on psychiatry that Dysart voices while revealing Alan's actual self-flagellating to be deep-seated sexual shame -- and, possibly, denied homosexual longings. Like potential psychotherapy candidates who refuse treatment in the belief that psychiatric "normalization" undercuts individuality, Dysart continually insists that his "curing" Strang will inevitably strangle the youth's creative impulses. But this is simply a mistaken concern. Still, the heavy-set Griffiths' most compelling talent is the erudition with which he imbues Dysart, and which helps make this Equus a riveting night in the theater.