EQUUS—CHANGES IN WHAT IS SHOCKING IN THE THEATER. I posted here about my mother’s reaction to the play Equus, which she saw in 1973. It’s a play about a psychiatrist treating a troubled young man who has been mutilating horses. Equus featured a young actor and a young actress being naked on stage for an extended period of time. Nudity on the stage at that time was unusual. After that, whenever a subject in questionable taste arose, my mother would say: “It’s all right. I’ve seen Equus.”
Mary Jane just got her copy of the Dramatist Guild magazine The Dramatist. It features an edited transcript of a discussion in 1980 among several very distinguished playwrights, including Peter Shaffer, the author of Equus. Shaffer said: “…in England, the play was found shocking because it seemed cruel to horses, in America because it seemed cruel to psychiatrists.” Shaffer thought that most of the people in the New York audience had been in analysis, and “Every remark which could be construed in any way as antipcychiatric fed the audience’s apparent communal fantasy of enjoying revenge on its doctors.”
Some 35 years later, it seems to me that a New York audience would not react as strongly to nudity or to criticism of psychiatrists and that the cruelty to horses would draw a stronger response.