“Equus”: The Naked Truth About Cugnini’s Senior Thesis Production

By Brooke Schultz

Senior Writer

What could lead a teenage boy to blind six horses? This is what Martin Dysart, a respected child psychiatrist, tries to discover in Charlotte Cugnini’s Senior Directing Thesis “Equus.”

“Equus” follows Dysart as he tries to understand his new patient, Alan Strang, who is sent to Dysart’s care after his intense obsession with horses.

The play balanced a psychological puzzle, great seriousness, and a hint of humor in the two-hour and 40 minute run time.

Cugnini said she randomly picked up a copy at the Book Plate three summers ago because she enjoyed reading plays.

“There was something about the narrative and language that drew me in and still does to this day,” Cugnini said. “I connected with Dysart in a way that I’ve never connected with any other character before. I think that’s why I ended up choosing this play. I had some connection to this character that was unique.”

Cugnini is double majoring in theatre and psychology, she had a deep interest in the show. Cugnini has also been involved in a multitude of other productions and positions throughout her time at Washington College.

She acted in “Rancho Mirage,” was assistant stage manager for “Almost Blue,” lighting designer for “Mr. Marmalade” and “Bachelorette,” and costume designer for “Arcadia.”

Senior Nick Anstett and sophomore Simon Belcher (above) act out a scene where Alan comes in contact with a horse.
Senior Nick Anstett and sophomore Simon Belcher (above) act out a scene where Alan comes in contact with a horse.

“Directing is very, very different from these positions but requires some knowledge of how they work,” she said. “They’ve all been helpful in directing and the culminating experience of my Senior Capstone Experience.”

So it would not taint her view of the play, Cugnini had never seen “Equus” performed before. She said the professors want the directors to come up with original ideas for presenting it.

The story is told through a combined timeline of past and present, creating a layered and dimensional storyline. Part of the scene took place within Dysart’s office, trying to prompt Strang to speak with him, while incorporating a scene from the past into the conversation. The balance between the timelines was very delicate, and it moved along without any discrepancies.

Freshman Logan Toney said, “In the beginning, it was a little confusing, but then I got used to it, and it got easier to understand. I thought it was a very good way to explain things and link everything back together.” Overall, Toney said the performance was incredible.

Dysart was performed by senior Andrew Beardmore, who breathed a theatric life into the character. Beardmore has been active in the theater scene, having directed, produced, and acted in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and playing “Cop” in “Middletown,” a thesis production last year by Rachel Diliplane, Class of 2015.

“Equus is the most demanding play I’ve ever tried. It’s not just the amount of lines, and the character depends upon the transformation. If I can’t portray where Dysart begins and ends, I’ll be doing the whole audience a disservice.”

Beardmore’s first impression of Dysart was quite different from his performance. At first, Beardmore understood Dysart to be shallow and jealous: a hurt old man who settled for a life he hates.

As Beardmore thought more of the character, he found how Dysart “quietly worships.” He said, “His passion for the ancient gods and Greece could just be some cursory fascination, but to me, Dysart is this hollow man made of straw. In Alan, he finds the spark that sets his whole world quickly burning up inside of himself. Despite all that inner turmoil, he is expected to just bear it and save this boy. Insanity.”

Beardmore showed this slow dissent into turmoil by first appearing well-dressed and put together, before slowly becoming disheveled, tossing aside his jacket, rolling up his sleeves, and messing up his hair. The audience is clearly able to see the struggle Dysart is dealing with as he deals with Strang.

Freshman Jack Nevins attended the performance and took note of all the “little idiosyncrasies” that were weaved throughout the production.

Nevins went to a performing arts high school, so he appreciated the small nuances such as the use of the choreography for the horses and especially Dysart’s unraveling.

“I loved the part when the therapist starts breaking down and rolling up his sleeves, because then you get to see he took off his suit, which represents his sanity, and then he slowly becomes more and more messy… while he’s speaking about his own life becoming more messed up,” he said.

Senior Nick Anstett played Strang, who performed his character as peculiar and deviant. His motions across the stage were sloth-like: slow and deliberate. Anstett didn’t miss a beat for his lines, his character bordering between vulnerable and emotionally untouchable.

The supporting cast – senior Ashley Warfield as Dora Strang/Horse, senior Nick Coviello as Frank Strang/Horse, sophomore Rosie Alger as Hesther Salomon/Horse, freshman Iz Clemens as Jill Mason/Nurse/Horse, freshman Conor Maloney as Harry Dalton/Horse, and sophomore Simon Belcher as Horseman/Nugget – sat on stage during the performance, getting up when memories of the two lead characters drew them in. They created a backbone for performance and helped transform the brown, sparsely decorated stage.

Sophomore Kirsten Moore described the performance as “intense.” She said, “You’re excited to know more. You’re excited to figure everything out. It’s just one big question. I think they did a really great job conveying everything.”

“Equus” was tinged with philosophy, grit, and humor, creating a strong production.

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