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February 4, 2009


by Jesse North

I long for summer. Not because I’ll be able to take long walks in Central Park without my ears falling off. Not because I can sit outside at Blockheads and enjoy $3 frozen margaritas. But because student rushing shows won’t be such torture!

I arrived at the Broadhurst Theatre at 8:15 this morning. I was first in line, which is satisfying, yet at the same time always induces me with the irrational fear that all other rushers must know something I don’t, or else why wouldn’t they already be here. I especially was nervous because this is the final week for the run of this Peter Shaffer play and had thought more rushers would be taking their last chances. My arrival to the theater must have been Mother Nature’s cue, because a blizzard commenced instantly, and lasted through the box office opening (not to mention the rest of the day). I stood just under the edge of the awning where the most logical entrance to the box office would be, come 10am. By the time a few people had joined me in my frigid wait for tickets, the fourth girl in line asked if we wouldn’t mind changing our line direction so that everyone could be standing under the awning and sheltered from the snow. I had no qualms with this, but the theater’s lobby attendent did. Why, I don’t know, but she wanted the line to start by the door furthest from the ticket window. This left everyone who joined the student rush line standing in the snow, except for me. I was dry, but I’ll admit, I felt pretty guilty.

Just as my hands almost couldn’t hold my book any longer due to numbness, it was 10am and the box office opened. Not only were the rush tickets $31.50 a piece, but they were in the on-stage seating area. Unlike Spring Awakening‘s on-stage seating, Equus has seating on three sides of the stage – meaning there are also seats at the back of the stage, where audience members will have lovely, straight-on views of the backs of the actors’ heads. You can guess which side the rushers seats were.

And now, an open letter to the producers of Equus

Dear producers,

I understand that you expected your play to be just as big a hit on Broadway, if not bigger, than it was in London’s West End. But plays that only sell 66 percent of its tickets (see Jan.26-Feb.28 grosses) shouldn’t be giving its rushers back-of-head-only seats, nor should they be charging $5 more than the normal rush rate. So stop being snobby because you have Daniel Radcliffe in your play and alter your policies to accurately reflect your situation.

All day, I was so curious as to what the seats would be like. I imagined not being able to see the actors’ faces once during the entire show. As I took my seat in the Broadhurst, I figured I was correct. The on-stage seating for Equus is elevated, almost mezzanine level. To see the action on stage, we all had to lean forward on the rail in front of us. We all looked like little kids on an apartment balcony, eager to get a better glimpse of the action on the street below. In a time where torn jeans and hoodies have become common theater attire, I thought this was one more immature behavior to add to the list of tacky theater-goers. I felt tacky, and I don’t like feeling that way at the theater. But, I felt forced into it.

As it turns out, I was wrong about the seats. Not wrong in the sense that I did see quite a lot of the back of Richard Griffiths’ head (not to mention Daniel Radcliffe’s arse) and at times I had to strain to hear the more quiet bits of dialogue, but the seats offered not only exciting proximity to the stars, but also a rare view for an audience member – the rest of the audience, straight on. Not only was it admittedly exciting being so close to Daniel Radcliffe, but the extremely short distance between us allowed me to watch real intricacies of his performance that hundreds of people in that theater were missing out on.

Equus is a headtrip. It’s a deep dive into the psyche of a disturbed young man and his equally disillusioned psychiatrist. It’s dark – dark and gooood. Alan Strang (Radcliffe) has blinded six horses with a metal spike and it’s up to Dr. Martin Dysart (Griffiths) to coerce him back to any attainable level of mental normalcy. Such a disturbing crime – what could possibly provoke this boy to do such a thing? And that’s what’s compelling about the play – it goes places and incorporates issues that the average person (certainly not I) would anticipate. I saw this play when it was in London. While I remember enjoying it and being thoroughly involved, much of it seemed hazy to me in memory (perhaps it was because it was right about the time that I realized I needed glasses for distance, and I find that when I’m not wearing my glasses, I have trouble remembering events that took place from afar). But this time, the play seemed to be coming easier to me and I felt much more engaged.

I was extremely impressed with Daniel Radcliffe tonight. This angle has been overdone since he began this play in London in 2007, but it really is one of the smartest career moves a young actor has ever made. The entertainment industry speculates that you’ll never be able to escape the shadow of Harry Potter and that weightier material could be beyond your reach. Well, Radcliffe definitey took the challenge, and took it seriously. A role that involves the idolization and sexualization of horses as religious figures is like a big ‘Yeah, what now?!’ to his critics. I found it hard to take my eyes of Radcliffe. During the moments when Dysart has him confessing, he has a crazed look in his eyes and shouts (sometimes in ecstasy), which had me convinced that as a stage actor, he has no problem with completely letting go and losing himself in his character. In general, it’s an amazingly challenging and mature role, and oddly enough, it’s meant to be mounted by an actor in the range of 17. Therefore, only the best can take it on, and Radcliffe is now definitely one of them.

Richard Griffiths was understudied when I saw the show in London, so I was thrilled to get to see him tonight. I was amazed by how even he kept his voice throughout the show – never raising it once – yet at the same time he conveyed humor, sarcasm, and importance quite defininitively. His excellent diction was probably what I noticed the most (other than what everyone notices most when it comes to Richard Griffiths). The way he hits his “t”s at the end of a word, it’s like he’s jabbing chalk succinctly against a blackboard. “Nugge-T-ah,” he projected, as he referred to Strang’s most favored horse.

Rounding out the wonderful darkness of this production of Equus was the deliciously eerie set, lighting, and sound design and “horse” choreography. As fantastic as the acting is, this version of Shaffer’s play wouldn’t be as successful if it weren’t for these elements. The stage looks like a torture chamber bathed in deep moonlight (credit to John Napier and David Hersey). The foreboding music, although minimalistic, was the perfect background to the shocking dialogue (credit to Gregory Clarke). And those men dressed as horses with the amazingly designed horse-head masks – their movements were so natural I couldn’t take my eyes off them (credit to Fin Walker).

And as if Warner Bros. wasn’t secretly hoping for this result all along – this Equus has only made me even more excited for Harry Potter 6 and 7.

Play: A / Rush: B-

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you to Sammy Davis, Queen of the Blogosphere, who inspired me to start this blog.

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