JIM TOMMANEY | JULY 28, 2014 | 7:00AM
Sir Peter Shaffer, knighted in 2001, has given us scores of plays, withAmadeus, The Royal Hunt of the Sun, and Equus the best known of them. Equus is a detective story of sorts as a psychiatrist tries to find out why a 17-year-old boy blinded six horses. The 1975 Broadway production of Equus starred Anthony Hopkins and Peter Firth, and won the Tony Award as Best Play. Firth also starred in the film version with Richard Burton. A 2007 London and 2008 Broadway production starring Daniel Radcliffe as the youth was acclaimed.
Now the very enterprising Matthew C. Logan brings a revival to the Frenetic Theater, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, with the production serving as his thesis for an MFA in directing.
Shaffer is a lyrical writer who can express complex ideas in flowing language, and also has a keen visual sense, so that what you see can be more important than what you hear. I saw the original Broadway production, and also a dramatically different New Theatre production in Miami in 2010, so I was eagerly awaiting the Logan production. It is astonishingly good, though flawed in some details, and rivals in many ways the New York version in its grasp of the subtleties of Shaffer's text.
Casting here is crucial, as the main character, surprisingly, is the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, not the boy, Alan Strang. Dysart is an academic type who yearns for an imagined, idealistic golden era of ancient Greece, and conveys his thoughts to the audience, often in extended monologues. Kevin Daugherty brings a vibrant stage presence to the role, riveting throughout, and also brings a keen sense-of-humor, dry wit, and irony, so that the monologues spring trippingly and amusingly from his tongue.
Ed Theakston plays the 17-year old Alan Strang, and captures his stubbornness and naivete, and provides a variety of interesting moments. He displays a touching vulnerability that makes Dysart's fascination with him not only plausible but essential. Alan appears largely unformed, however, a tabula rasa awaiting imprinting, while the play ideally would present him as mal-formed, someone whose capacity for social interaction has been stunted. There should be the inner tensile strength of steel behind his refusal to communicate.
The direction by Logan is excellent, and as I eagerly scanned my program during the intermission to see who had done the brilliant lighting design, I learned that he had contributed this as well. One of the great strengths of this production is the ensemble nature of the acting - Logan has created a unity of tone that is remarkable. Mykle McCoslin plays Hesther Saloman, a magistrate who persuades Dysart to take on Alan as a patient, and who feels an appreciation of Dysart and a warmth for him. McCoslin has the beauty of a young Ava Gardner, and lights up the stage with her presence.