… “interspecies love” …

A psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, has thrust on him a singularly disturbed young patient, Alan Strang.  The teen-ager has committed the shocking act of blinding six horses.  A magistrate compassionately seeks to spare Alan from the criminal justice system by handing him over the her friend, Martin, expecting him to help the young man resolve whatever is his problem … become happier … or less anguished … something in that direction.

The play is a psychoanalytically styled probing in search of a cure with scenes from Alan’s life and crime dramatized.  Unique in the annals of psychoanalysis, the psychiatrist talks more than the patient!  Alec Baldwin, in the role of the psychiatrist, goes on and on and on, pretentiously philosophizing and telling us what to think about the matter at hand and everything else.

It turns out the boy is sexually hung up on horses, those muscular, strong necked, sweaty beasts.  It wouldn’t be fair to reveal how his passion for horses leads him to blind them except to say there’s a great deal of sensationalism in this play, which may explain why it’s still around after its initial London and Broadway productions in 1973.  I’ve read that Alan’s nudity created international attention (!) back then.  Today that’s so common (yawn) … so in this production the nudity is hyped by including female as well as male nudity in an actual, staged love scene between Alan and his would-be girlfriend but, for good reason, there’s no chemistry.

In addition to the human characters, this production includes five horses (not the six described by Alan’s crime).  Never mind that one’s missing — the horses area really well done!  They’re played by five men wearing brown body suits, openwork horse-head shaped helmets and heavy, openwork boots shaped like hooves that force them to clump around slowly and loudly, nod their heads, resists the bit with their chins, and create, all in all, a fascinating and appealing illusion of horses — or, since they have the bodies of men, centaurs.  The brawny, brown, pheromone-rich horses are stand-ins for “the love that dare not speak its name.”  How telling that as recently as 1973, horses were thought to be easier for an audience to take as sex objects for men than other men!

But Alan, and his psychiatrist, and “the cure” … these are totally unconvincing and — an old-fashioned word for a dated play — corny.  The psychiatrist actually promises Alan he’ll cure him.  And silly as that sounds, in the play, he sort of does.

EQUUS plays at the Guild Hall Theatre in Easthampton, Long Island, through July 3rd.

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