What happened in that proverbial stable? That is the mystery at the heart of Equus, a 1973 drama by Peter Schaffer now revived to stunning effect at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Memorable for the previous 2008 revival on Broadway starring Daniel Radcliffe, the bespectacled Harry Potter of film, this time the "known" actor is Alec Baldwin as the shrink with an interest in the classics, who envies a small town boy's passion. The John Drew Theater stage is at once a stable, a psychiatric hospital, Greek temple, auguring something primitive, carnal, and spiritual. Based upon a kernel of a true story, Equus is embellished psychologically, eroticized. This is a brave play that can feel dated, but the Guild Hall production gets it right.
When asked about the decision to stage this play director Tony Walton said, Alec said he always wanted to play this doctor, the shrink in Equus, but to do it right you needed the boy. "Harry Potter" had recently done it on Broadway, said Walton. And then, Tony said, I found him. He had just cast this actor in Candida for the Irish Rep co starring with Melissa Errico: Sam Underwood.
At issue in the 2008 production was Daniel Radcliffe's image: could audiences appreciate the actor's wizardry and his coming of age, in this case by doing something creepy, hidden-to horses? Sam Underwood carries no such baggage. With Baldwin as the heavy weight with a British accent, the two actors must balance each other out-and they do. In truth, Baldwin is ubiquitous in the Hamptons, loveably so, as he lends his name and talent to many arts projects. But his acting is generous too. His roles in 30 Rock and opposite Meryl Streep in "It's Complicated" are notable for his pitch perfect comic timing. In the Nancy Meyers romantic comedy, who can forget his naked leap on the bed, visible on Skype? For the Equus boy to weigh in equally is no small feat. He must be vulnerable and naked before the scene in which he actually takes off his clothes.
The horses are believably portrayed by six well-hung men in chestnut body suits, horse-shaped masks, and hoofs of woven wire. See it for the suspense, the masterful unraveling of a crime, but more, for the emotional pitch, the pandemonium of steeds gone wild. When theater as spectacle is done this well, it is simply thrilling.
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