Friday, October 3, 2008

Review: “Equus”

Griffiths Makes Character Jump from Page to Stage

By Lauren Yarger

Once in a while, we’re treated to one of those rare theater experiences where a character makes the jump from the pages of the script to a full living and breathing person up on stage. Richard Griffiths’ portrayal of Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist who helps a troubled boy who inexplicably blinds six horses with a hoof pick in the revival of Peter Shaffer’s “Equus,” is such a performance.

Griffiths mixes Dysart’s genuine compassion for Alan Strang (Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame) and the desire to help him untwist the warped thinking that led to the tragedy with envy of the boy’s ability to lose himself in the worship of horses and a loathing of his own psychiatric abilities which will replace that passion with “normal.” In other renditions (although I didn’t see the original on Broadway in 1975 which won Tony Awards for Best Play and for Peter Firth who played Alan) Dysart usually seems more stuffy and uptight to give outer contrast to the inner turmoil of a man who doesn’t enjoy much of anything and would welcome a chance to feel passion. Griffith’s more slovenly appearance and almost nonchalant line delivery put a face on a man swimming in boredom, but who can’t end the foundering, either by grabbing a lifeline by embracing the life he has or by cutting loose and diving into the forbidden pleasures of a world like Alan’s. It’s theater at its best.

Also at his best is young Radcliffe, making his Broadway debut as the boy who has confused religion, horses and sex into one ugly blur and who’s desperately crying out for help. Radcliffe, with a haunting stare, skillfully portrays Alan’s wide range of emotions and whether he’s a 6-year-old boy experiencing the excitement of his first horse ride, a fully committed worshiper of the horse god Equus, a boy who hates his domineering and repressive parents (T. Ryder Smith and Carolyn McCormick) or a 17-year-old feeling the first pangs of lust for a girl (Anna Camp), we know what sickness, turmoil and anguish is in Alan’s mind and how he could have come to commit such a terrible crime. And this was Shaffer’s intent in writing the play: to try to “create a mental world in which the deed (apparently based on a true incident) could be made comprehensible.” In this, and under the direction of Thea Sharrock who wisely sticks to the original vision, the play truly is a compelling study, though 30-plus years have softened the impact of what were shocking issues (including nudity on stage) back in the mid ’70s.

Kate Mulgrew, as the judge who asks Dysart to take Alan’s case, seems uncomfortable and stiff. Lorenzo Pisoni gives a nice turn as a young horseman and as Alan’s favorite horse, Nugget. The horses, played by six men, are crafted by John Napier, who recreates his metal, skeletal horse masks from the original production. They walk on elegant metal hoofs that make them tower over the performers like a horse would. Movement supplied by Fin Walker is skilled in creating horses, but flawed when the movements are choreographed in what seems more like a Rockette drill number than a horse worshiping rite.

Simple functioning sets (including audience seated in a loft on stage) recreate Shaffer’s vision and brooding and ominous lighting from David Hersey complete the picture.

Christians also might like to know:

•Adult themes
•Full nudity
•Sexual acts depicted
•Alan develops a personal religion in which Christ and the horse God Equus become confused.

1 comment:

Brad said...

Love the vividness and passion in your reviews...
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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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