Students exhibit discipline in “Equus”

On Oct. 20, the much-anticipated production of Peter Shaffer's "Equus" premiered in the Robert Sinclair Theatre as part of Cothurnus and Veg S.O.U.P.'s annual presentation of an entirely student-produced theatrical event.

"Equus" tells the tale of a perturbed young man named Alan Strang (sophomore Chris McLauchlin) who is sent to a psychiatric hospital after blinding six horses. A psychiatrist, Martin Dysart (senior Paul Nardone), is placed in charge of his case and tries to uncover what led a 17-year-old boy to commit such a heinous act.

Throughout the play, audiences travel within Alan's subconscious through a series of flashbacks and recollections. The entire cast is present on stage at all times, sitting in two rows on either side.

McLauchlin gave an emotionally stimulating performance as Alan. His acting was a careful balancing act between childish bliss and disturbing malice. One of the key challenges of this role was to make it a unique experience and McLauchlin did just that. What's more, Nardone exhibited a great deal of discipline in his acting technique as the psychiatrist; it's a great task for any college student to portray an exceedingly older character. Even so, he delivered Shaffer's lengthy monologues with remarkable passion. Both McLauchlin and Nardone had terrific stage chemistry, a quality fundamental to "Equus."

Senior Adam LaSalle proved a standout performer as Alan's rigid father. LaSalle completely embodied the character of a frustrated middle-aged man through both action and physical appearance. By the second half of the production, it was hard not to sympathize with him just as Alan eventually does.

Following suit with past productions, this version of "Equus" constructed its horses with metal wiring shaped into horse heads and platform shoes emulating hooves. Each of the actors playing horses moved with precision and grace, directly mirroring that of an actual horse. In the moments when they were featured, they caught viewers' eyes in an almost unsettling manner. Freshman CJ Roche led the herd as Nugget, the object of Alan's affection.

Senior Josh Karp took on the demanding task of directing the intricate psychodrama. In his director's note, Karp noted that they were faced with a "tightly constrained budget." Fortunately, "Equus" is usually performed with minimalistic set pieces. "This particular show is not about spectacle. It's about plot, character, and language that is used," wrote Karp.

Just like the most recent Broadway production, various blocks were used as pieces of furniture in the psychiatrist's office and as Alan's bed. The location of the bed, however, proved to be an issue for those sitting further back. A few audience members remarked that they were unable to see what Alan was doing when he moved to that part of the set.

Acclaimed acting coach Stella Adler said, "The theater is a spiritual and social x-ray of its time," and "Equus" embodies this idea. It leaves viewers contemplating the line between passion and insanity while engaging them in the struggles of a young man battling his demons. Moreover, Geneseo's student production captured this essence of the play with excellent execution.