Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi A Little Horseplay

By Steven Robert Allen

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  Maybe you woke up this morning at around eight or nine, blobs of mucus clinging to the corners of your eyes, the smells of dirty laundry pricking up into your nostrils like a pair of rusty fish hooks. And maybe you thought to yourself, "You know, today feels like the perfect day for mutilating a horse." Sounds like a fine idea, but unless you want to risk being cited for violating Section 53(b)(1) of the New Mexico Animal Cruelty Prevention Act (1982), you'd better find some other way to release your perverted little tensions, buster.

One strategy might be to attend the Vortex Theater's 25th anniversary performance of Peter Shaffer's controversial play Equus. Shaffer, the British playwright who penned Five Finger Exercise (1958), The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964) and Amadeus (1979), provides just the sort of theater to satisfy the aesthetic compulsions of a potential horse mutilator like yourself. Equus provoked such strong feelings when it first reared its equine head in 1973 that it was actually banned from many theaters during its initial wave of productions. Apparently, there were strenuous objections to its bizarre subject matter and ample nudity.

The play, though, is much more than a mere shock. A psychoanalyst attempts to determine why a 16-year-old boy committed a horrible act of horse mutilation. At first, the boy doesn't talk--he just croons TV jingles to himself like a lunatic. But soon he begins to open up, and the psychoanalyst learns his story.

Alan Strang, the child of a Christian mother and a Marxist father, works at a stable because he loves horses. While there, he falls in love with a horse named Nugget and ultimately develops an intense relationship with the animal, which is part spiritual and part sexual. Alan rides the horse every night. He talks to it. Then, in a fit of deranged something, he mutilates it.

As the psychoanalyst listens to this story, he comes to respect and admire Alan, if not for what he has done, then at least for the manner in which he has dealt with his repressed spirituality and primitivism. The play develops into a critique of psychoanalysis and social conventions. The righteous can, afterall, condemn an act of horse mutilation, but what's so wrong with a little horse-love as long as the beast consents?

Despite the fact that it made many people want to vomit, Equus won the New York Drama Critics' Circle and Antoinette Perry Awards. To honor this little thespian oddity, the Vortex, Albuquerque's premiere alternative theater, is producing a 25th anniversary production, so that people like you can live out their twisted little fantasies--without getting arrested.


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