Book Review: Equus by Peter Shaffer

Equus (Penguin Plays): Shaffer, Peter: 0051488011002: Books

Title: Equus

Author: Peter Shaffer

Genre: Classic Plays

Number of Pages: 112

Rating: C

Recommended?: No

Well, this was a bit of overhyped psychobabble. My grandad gave my mom this book to read when she was young because she said she was interested in psychology, and I’m not sure she ever 100% forgave him for that. I don’t have a problem with the subject matter (I like a lot of stories with really dark subject matter,) but what I wasn’t expecting was to be both irritated and bored.

Equus is about a child psychiatrist named Martin Dysart who is having a bit of a midlife crisis and going through a dry patch with his wife. When a boy named Alan Strang becomes his patient, he’s never dealt with anybody with the sort of problems Strang presents. Alan Strang blinded six horses and when Dysart talks to him, he is alternately given to fits of rage and reciting the lyrics of TV jingles. Most of the play consists of Martin Dysart struggling to understand Alan and why he would be driven to do such a horrific thing.

The thing about this play I really didn’t get was how the psychiatrist romanticizes Alan’s neuroses and his sexual hang-ups with horses. He goes on at length about how Alan is more ‘alive’ than so-called normal people and the intensity of his emotions, when in reality Alan is just a freak show who projects his sexual hang-ups onto barnyard animals. The crime itself is horrific, but Dysart loses sight of that as he sinks into his own egotistical naval-gazing.

I also thought it was stupid how Alan’s mother was portrayed as being responsible for his behavior because of her fanatical religious beliefs. It’s just so cliché to blame the mom for everything and even though Alan’s mother neither she nor her husband are responsible for Alan’s actions, the play ends up placing an inordinate amount of blame on them anyway. I wasn’t expecting to ‘like’ these characters but I thought I would at least find them interesting. I’ve really liked a few of the classic plays I’ve read recently but unfortunately this just didn’t live up to the hype for me.

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