Pros:Creepy atmosphere, some interesting tidbits
The Bottom Line: A coming of age story dealing with the darker things in life and an unhealthy obsession. Three stars because it's not bad, just not my cup of tea.
A few years ago I sat down to read Equus, Peter Shaffer's supposed masterpiece before he penned Amadeus (later turned into the award-winning film). I wasn't too impressed and forgot about it until a few months ago when my group and I chose it for our composition project in my Script Analysis class. I guess I forgot, too, how much I really didn't like it.
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Letting it be, I reread the play (many times, mind you) to try and pick up on what everyone else loved about it. I can now objectively see, but I cannot condone this play because of how thick and boring it is. Let's just say, I was the only one in the class (and ironically on Epinions) who didn't like it.
Equus is an English play written in the early seventies about a young boy named Alan blinding a series of horses with a spike. His parents seek help for him with the psychologist, Dysart, who's having a self-doubt crisis and lack of passion all on his own.
As Alan proves uncooperative and a little crazy, he strongly contrasts Dysart's demeanor as he tries to help the boy overcome his demons and his own in the process. He only discovers Alan's fascination with horses on a religious/sexual plateau and the ties that bind us in life to make us passionless.
The play is actually a whole lot more complex than this (on an analytic level), but this is pretty much what it sums up to. Throughout the play there are many scenes of Dysart trying to get information out of Alan only to be frustrated with his lack of interest. He tries to gain trust and delve deeper into this boy's psyche, but is this really a place he wants to visit and is he really trying to help this boy in the first place? Who's getting the therapy; the therapist or the patient?
What I enjoy about Equus is that it's disturbing. Alan is a fairly complex individual who's very unpredictable and childlike while Dysart is manipulative in his queries (at points). Both of them lead the play amidst a few secondary characters like Alan's parents and Jill, a girl Alan lusts after, which leads him to the blinding-horse-situation.
Equus is a fairly straight forward play with a chorus sitting alongside the square stage, humming and thwipping the various sound effects, and a minimal stage design. There are many nods toward Greek plays in the dialogue and the way it plays out, which is really interesting. Shaffer's production notes are specific, but easy to change for interpretation purposes.
I can't wrap my head around what makes this entertaining--it's a boring read. My playbook version is a little over one hundred pages with two acts and thirty-five scenes. The play rolls around at an extremely slow pace, in my opinion. While the parts of Dysart's interrogations with Alan are interesting, the play moves at a crawl and could have wrapped it up in less time. There's a lot of subplots that build up to the eventual unveiling of the climax (horse blinding), but they aren't as interesting as the main Dysart/Alan parts.
Equus was recently on London's West End with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) as Alan, causing a big ruckus. This led to a newfound interest in the play again, but I'm here to tell you that it's not as cracked up as it seems. While the characters are interesting and it has a dark and creepy atmosphere, it's too slow and full of themes that may be a huge turn off to most audiences (and readers).
I can see its high regard, but it doesn't work for me. Too full of bloated scenes and shock value to get my endorsement, and after months of working on it-I'm done with it in more ways than one. It has a great concept, but has a shoddy delivery. This could be one of the plays you need to see live to really enjoy, but as a "read" it's pretty dry, which is no bueno. Recommended to theater aficionados and people susceptible to "art", but not for readers wanting a good time.
© Jason Haskins, 2009
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