Review of Equus: The struggle for identity
I just finished reading Equus, the 1975 Tony-award winning play written by Peter Shaffer and recently revived on Broadway with stars Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths.
The play revolves around Alan Strang, a troubled boy of 17 who has been court-ordered to receive care after he blinds six horses with a metal spike. His foil is Dr. Martin Dysart, a psychiatrist who is Strang’s last resort.
It’s in the therapeutic setting that the two go to battle (and is a far cry from the tête-à-tête between Matt Damon and Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting). It is revealed that Strang, torn between an atheistic father and a Christian mother, creates his own religious world evolving the sexual and spiritual worship of horses.
The play’s action is focused on Dysart coaxing Strang to reveal his thoughts and motivations. Dysart is able to do so, in part, because he, himself is in crisis. Strang’s inner world is an obsession of which Dysart, a man tired of his profession and marriage, is jealous.
“But that boy has known a passion more ferocious than I have ever felt in any second of my life. And let me tell you something: I envy it.” (Act II: Scene 25)
Dysart has a professional responsibility to save Strang and society from the consequences of the boy’s obsession. But in doing so, Dysart realizes he must end the boy’s passion—his most raw and truthful part of himself.
I was amazed with the depth of the play, which I only read and never seen performed. The precision of the dialogue reminded me of the meticulousness of poetry. Equus is a remarkable and haunting work.
To my chagrin, I hadn’t heard of the play until Radcliffe joined the London production. But here is Dan Radcliffe’s interview on Inside the Actors Studio that really motivated me to seek out the text.