"Now your eyes are feeling heavy. You want to sleep, don't you?" That's the question posed by child psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Griffiths) as he hypnotizes his 17-year-old patient Alan Strang (Daniel Radcliffe) in the current revival of Peter Shaffer's 1973 play Equus. But in that moment I could have sworn Griffiths was speaking directly to me. It was also the only point where I felt that any of the performers in this tedious, overwrought production were actually in the same room as the audience.
Equus is a relentlessly heavy and self-serious play, and even Shaffer, in a program note, admits that its dated fascination with psychiatric techniques made him reluctant to authorize "large scale" revivals. Then along came Harry Potter and, presumably, a truckload of money, and here we are on Broadway after a smash run in London. Don't get me wrong—Radcliffe is commendably fearless and his performance gives equal weight to Strang's creepiness and wounded humanity. But he's no Peter Firth, who created the role and starred in the film adaption. And no matter how much Radcliffe and company bleat and bellow (or how much Griffiths monotonously drones on), there's no getting around the fact that Shaffer was right to resist reviving it.
It's more dissertation than drama, and it needs transcendent performances to elevate it from a theatrical lecture on religion, sexual repression and psychiatry. This cast has done great work elsewhere, but they seem ill served by Thea Sharrock's direction. There's a lot of shrill yelling, with Carolyn McCormick, who plays Alan's mother, the whiniest offender. And I'm sorry, but the buff dancers with the sliver equine heads and horse hoof stripper heels? More cheesy than haunting. Of course, the incessantly coughing audience was satisfied just to see their movie stars in person, rising for a ridiculous standing ovation when Radcliffe took his bow. Outside the theater, police penned in hundreds of autograph-seeking geeks. It took half an avenue block to finally escape the hype.