The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

Equus begins in darkness and silence. Gradually a dim light illuminates what appears to be a boxing ring—a square with railings on three sides; the side facing the audience is open. Suddenly, in the center of this square, a spotlight illuminates a teenage boy, whose head is pressed against the chest of a tall man wearing on his head a large sculpture of gleaming wire in the shape of a horse’s head. The scene is one of tenderness; the boy’s hands stretch up to fondle the sculpted head, and the head itself nuzzles the boy’s neck. The boy, the audience will soon learn, is Alan Strang, and the “horse” is Nugget. Their moment alone is abruptly interrupted by a flash of flame from a cigarette lighter downstage and to the left; then the stage brightens to illuminate a large circle, in the center of which is the square ring. The man with the lighter is now clearly visible, sitting on a bench and smoking a cigarette, and will soon be identified as Martin Dysart, Alan’s psychiatrist. His will be the play’s first—and last—words, spoken directly to the audience about Alan, Nugget, and himself.

Initially Dysart admits that he is less interested in the boy than in the horse; as the doctor asks himself and the audience unanswerable questions about the horse’s desires and grief, Alan leads Nugget out of the square and offstage through a tunnel behind the set. Dysart rises and enters the square. He admits to being “lost” regarding Alan’s case, admits to having a “desperate” feeling that he himself is “wearing that horse’s head,” and admits to being filled with longstanding personal and professional doubts which have been made acute by the extremity of the boy’s case. He abruptly truncates his opening monologue by expressing his desire to explain the case to the audience from its beginning. The remaining twenty scenes of act 1, therefore, are flashbacks to crucial episodes in Dysart’s study of Alan and his background. Hesther Salomon, a magistrate and longtime friend of Dysart, visits his office in Rokeby Psychiatric Hospital and pleads with him to admit seventeen year-old Alan to the hospital. This will keep the boy out of jail, Hesther tells him; besides, she feels certain the boy needs Dysart’s expert psychiatric help because the crime he has committed, at the riding stable where he worked, is so horrible that even other doctors will think the boy disgustingly unworthy of help: He has stabbed out the eyes of six horses with a steel spike.

During their first interview, Alan...

(The entire section is 1037 words.)