Equus Credit: Emily Schwartz

A haunted and haunting lead performance by the excellent Sean William Kelly drives AstonRep Theatre Company’s solid and moving production of Equus, the 1973 drama by British playwright Peter Shaffer (Amadeus). Kelly plays Alan Strang, a 17-year-old stable boy in southern England who blinds six horses with a spike, a seemingly inexplicable act of horrific cruelty. Committed to a psychiatric hospital, he comes under the care of Dr. Martin Dysart (Rian Jairell). Inspired by the structure of classical Athenian tragedy, this “whydunit” unravels the tangled web of spiritual and sexual impulses that led to Alan’s crime through Martin’s interviews with Alan, his parents, and others. The supporting cast under Derek Bertelsen’s direction function as a Greek chorus, including using masks to portray the horses.

Shaffer suggests that Alan’s pathology—a twisted erotic neo-pagan fascination with an imaginary horse-god he has named Equus—reveals a desperate longing for meaning and connection that materialistic modern life fails to satisfy. Significantly, Alan is addicted to TV, with a special fascination for westerns romanticizing cowboy heroes—a popular genre in the 1960s and early ’70s, all but vanished now. Today, the 46-year-old play strikes me as surprisingly timely, offering insight into how the jumbled barrage of fantasy images on the Internet may trigger psychosis in vulnerable disaffected young males.  v