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Neigh-sayers: The controversies of ‘Equus’

If you harbor pre-conceived notions about the play Equus, you’re not alone. Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play still manages to raise eyebrows some 40 years after its London premiere, earning its controversial reputation for, more than anything, its directorial insistence on full-frontal male nudity. With the play opening this weekend at UNLV, we thought we’d dissect some of the more controversial fuss, and encourage you to make up your own mind.

• Bloody hell, it’s violent: A 17-year old gouges the eyes out of six horses; a psychiatrist tries to figure out why — that’s the play in a nutshell, which you discover moments in. Ironically, it’s the only nonfictional part of this otherwise imagined tale. Shaffer was inspired to write the play upon hearing of a real-life crime involving a rural teenager and his horse-blinding spree. Equus strives to explain the unfathomable action.

• Challenging the godhead: Nothing ruffles panties quicker than questioning religion, which Shaffer does in grand fashion. From a troubled shrink suffering nightmare visions of ritualistic sacrifices of children, to the lead character’s obsession with an unusual “godhead,” Shaffer challenges some dusty core values by exploring the frail line between religious epiphany and raw sexual desire.

• Going full frontal: Yes, even when performed at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre, the play requires full-frontal nudity. The director knows it, the actors know it and, whether by way of playbill warning or Facebook status updates, audiences should know it, too, before attending the show.

• The Harry Potter factor: Fans of the fictional wizard expressed outrage when Daniel Radcliffe ditched his iconic specs and dropped trou as Alan Strang for the play’s 2008 Broadway run. Then again, it kind of says more about the “critics” than the play itself that Radcliffe’s onscreen smoking scenes caused more of a media stir than his equine eye-gouging.

EQUUS, Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., through March 16, Judy Bayley Theatre at UNLV, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway, http://nct.unlv.edu, $10-$30