For time immemorial, theatrical renderings of adolescent angst have revolved around typical themes of boy-meets-girl, or occasionally, boy-meets-boy or girl-meets-girl.
But boy-meets-horse? Though the premise is a rarity, the play’s not exactly new. “Equus,” first produced in 1973 and presented by St. Louis’ HotCity Theatre Sept. 10-25, tells the story of 17-year-old Alan Strang (Drew Pannebecker) and his sexual and religious preoccupation with horses.
Despite Strang’s unusual fixation, and the violent crime he commits while in its thrall, his psychiatrist Dr. Martin Dysart (Jim Anthony) believes him to be a decent person. Indeed, the boy’s turmoil parallels many a young man’s conflicted questions about living in the supposedly civilized world where organized religion has a stranglehold on the simple human need to worship.
In the 1975 Tony Award-wining play by Peter Shaffer, Dysart’s own lamentations about life are as much a focal point as those of the boy. Dysart wrestles with feelings of disillusionment about his own life as he tries to help Strang “adjust” to a society where normalcy is a moving target.
While the “Equus” nude scene with Strang sparked controversy when “Harry Potter” actor Daniel Radcliffe played the part, the play has been staged “hundreds of times with less famous actors without even a mention of the nudity,” according to HotCity Managing Director John Armstrong.
“We simply let it be and hope the audience sees the show for what it is, a very theatrical piece about the dynamic relationship between a psychiatrist, a troubled boy, and with themselves,” Armstrong wrote in an email.
The “Equus” cast also includes Steve Isom as Frank Strang/Dalton, Kelley Ryan as Hesther, Ruth Heyman as Dora, Emily Fisher as Jill/Nurse, Brian Jones as Horseman/Nugget and Michael Perkins as Trooper.
Nancy Fowler Larson is a freelance writer who includes theater coverage in her work for the Beacon.
This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.