“He blinded six horses with a metal spike.” Such is the crime that sends a surly 17-year-old named Alan (the excellent Geoff Button) to the mental ward in Peter Shaffer’s 1973 British-set drama, “Equus.” It’s a premise just gruesome enough to get your attention and hold you as Alan’s psychiatrist (Kurt Ehrmann), a man in the throes of his own, slightly warped existential crisis, delves into his patient’s psyche to dredge up that all-important answer: Why did Alan do it? If you follow Shaffer’s reasoning, it’s got something to do with passion—the religious, quasi-sexual, self-flagellating kind—and at the end of the day, isn’t passion more important than numb docility? You may not necessarily buy Shaffer’s point, but it’s worth thinking about anyway. Though somewhat pat in its conceit and dubious in its psychiatric mumbo-jumbo, “Equus” is actually quite a good play. And with this potent revival by The Hypocrites—sharp, funny and intellectually engaging—it is easy to overlook the weaker points. Again, Sean Graney shows why he is one of the most interesting directors working in town these days. Talk about an eye for casting: Graney packs his ensemble with actors who give even the smallest roles a compelling nuance. (Erin Myers, in her brief role as a nurse, brings a perfect tang to her lower-class English accent and she has a striking ability to go from perkily efficient to snarly in the blink of an eye.) As Alan’s favorite horse, Nugget, J.B. Waterman—costumed by Graney and Jennifer Grace in brown velour yoga pants and a horse-like headpiece—absolutely nails the physicality: the backside arched out, the legs taut, the halting, pompous steps. He even gets the heavy sound of exhaling breath right. It’s the kind of performance that only works if the actor goes all the way with it, and Waterman goes all the way and then some. It’s not every director who can manage that feat. (Nina Metz)
“Equus” plays at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 North Southport, (312)902-1500, through November 21.