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Can Daniel Radcliffe ride 'Equus' to the Tony Awards derby?

September 26, 2008 | 10:31 am

Daniel Radcliffe of "Harry Potter" fame overcame the advance publicity about his nude scene in the Broadway revival of "Equus" and convinced the tough Gotham critics he can actually act.

While they were, for the most part, less than enthused about the overall production, the theater scribes raved about Radcliffe's performance. The English actor, 19, earned similar notices last year for the London run. Then he won only two kudos from the WhatsOnStage Awards, which were sealed with a notorious gay kiss. Now Daniel Radcliffe could well be a contender next spring for the Tony Award for best actor in a play.

Back in 1975, the original mounting of "Equus" was nominated for five Tonys, winning best play for Peter Shaffer (he would win again in 1981 for "Amadeus") and the director prize for John Dexter (a winner again in 1988 for helming "M. Butterfly"). Peter Firth, who originated the role of the troubled teen who blinds six horses, lost the best actor race to a rare double nominee — John Kani and Winston Ntshona — from the twin bill "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead" and "The Island."

Equus_daniel_radcliffe

This time 'round, the field for best revival is crowded with upcoming productions of classics "The Seagull" and "Hedda Gabler" as well as Tony winners "All My Sons" (1947) and "A Man for All Seasons" (1962). And, as the directors' race draws from both original and revived plays, it is unlikely that Thea Sharrock will make it into the final four.

Typical of the mixed reviews was Ben Brantley of the New York Times, who said, "Daniel Radcliffe steps into a mothball-preserved, off-the-rack part and wears it like a tailor’s delight — that is, a natural fit that allows room to stretch. Would that the production around him, first presented in London, showed off Mr. Shaffer’s 1973 psychodrama as flatteringly as it does its stage-virgin star."

Linda Winer of Newsday enthused, "The actor, tiny but a commanding feral presence, manages to be both extraordinarily lucid and mysterious as Alan Strang, the alienated provincial English boy who literally worships horses but blinds six of them in an explosion of psychosexual religiosity. Radcliffe, despite the visceral physicality of the role, appears supremely comfortable in his own skin — and, yes, kids, thanks to the nude scene, we get to see all of it."

Said Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News: "He's terrific and gives a passionate performance as Alan Strang, the 17-year-old stable hand who worships -- and blinds -- six horses. Yes, he's nude in a scene, but not gratuitously. And yes, he's (at least partially) in good company in the revival of Peter Shaffer's play, which intrigues but shows its age."

The USA Today review began, "The good and bad news about the new Broadway revival of 'Equus' with Daniel Radcliffe is that the actor is aging a lot more gracefully than the play. In this London-based production, which opened Thursday at the Broadhurst Theatre, the Harry Potter star puts to rest any arguments that his appeal should be limited to moony adolescents and maudlin grown-ups. If only the same could be said for Peter Shaffer's 35-year-old drama."

Clive Barnes of the New York Post found "Radcliffe, with his luminously intense eyes and fragile but wiry body, looks wonderfully right as Alan, the 17-year-old British boy besotted by everything equine. His acting, beautifully understated and withdrawn, has just the right manner for this horribly mixed-up adolescent, at the prey of a wayward religiosity and a twisted sexuality cemented together with suburban hypocrisy."

For David Rooney of Variety, "Daniel Radcliffe significantly helps overcome the fact that Peter Shaffer's 1975 Tony winner doesn't entirely hold up. The play is an astute career move for the 'Harry Potter' frontman as he confidently navigates the transition from child stardom to adult roles -- and Radcliffe's performance provides 'Equus' with a raw emotional nerve center that renders secondary any concerns about its wonky and over-explanatory psychology."

However, Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter had some reservations: "Playing Alan Strang, the tormented 17-year-old who commits the horrific crime of blinding six horses, the young actor displays a confident physical presence -- all too necessary, considering the length of his Act 2 nude scene -- and intensity. But he doesn't quite manage to fully plumb the disturbed depths of the character, as Peter Firth did so brilliantly in the original production and 1977 film version."

And finally, Michael Kuchwara of the AP thought, "The young actor's voice is strong, and Radcliffe doesn't shrink from the physicality of the part. That includes doffing all his clothes during the play's climactic moments. But then, he literally throws himself into the role in a production chock full of startling, imaginative theatrics." He was one of the few to find favor with the overall production: "Director Thea Sharrock, taking a cue from the original staging, has given the play a compelling, arenalike flavor. Some audience members sit in two tiers above the stage and look down on the action."

(Old Vic Theatre, Broadhurst Theatre)


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