Arts House Theatre Company's production of Equus opened last night, giving one of the best productions done on campus in the last few years by achieving a hard tension that most student dramas strive for but never quite reach. Equus is about a boy so obsessed with horses that he has gouged out the eyes of five horses with a metal spike. The story is presented from the point of view of the boy's doctor. Though the play's premise leaves room for the creation of a potentially boring, overacted drama, the Arts House production does not fall victim to this. Neither the acting nor the props stand in the way of the dialogue. Jonathan Barnard, an exchange student from the University of Edinburgh, is brilliant as the doctor, a man trying to work through his own internal problems while nursing the boy's injured insides. He brings a frankness to the play which makes the difference between melodrama and acting. His character is trusting to both the boy and the audience. However, most of the cast does not share Barnard's consistency. Andrew Wanliss-Orlebar, a College freshman, plays the boy very unevenly. He sometimes fades into the background, even during important monologues. But he can also ignite the stage with feeling that even Barnard's performance does not rival. The best moments come when Barnard and Wanliss-Orlebar play off against each other. At the end of the first act, the boy describes, with the doctor's prodding, a quasi-sexual ritual he performs with Nugget, one of the horses. Barnard and Wanliss-Orlebar successfully play off each other until Wanliss-Orlebar reaches an intensity seldom seen on stage on this campus. Some of the actors seem too stiff. College freshman Simone Elliott gives a flawless, clean performance as Hesther, the doctor's confidant, but never seems to relax. Equus will continue tonight and Saturday, as well as Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week. All shows are at 8 p.m. in the High Rise East Rathskellar. Tickets are $5 and will be sold on Locust Walk, at the Annenberg Box Office, and at the door.
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Many plays rely on fancy lighting and expansive sets to establish the environment. But the Arts House Theatre Company production of Equus is foregoing the glitz and relying on the actors to capture the imagination of the audience. "It's a very basic set," stage manager and College junior Mike Hanley explained. "So the actors have to make you believe." Equus is a psychological drama about a seventeen year-old boy who blinds five horses by gouging them with a metal spike. Most of the story is presented from the point of view of the doctor who is trying to cure the boy's obsession with horses. But the doctor must also deal with his own internal conflicts. "The kid is crazy, but he knows more about feeling than the doctor can imagine," assistant director and College junior Doug Gilmartin said. "It's a question of whether society can stamp people into a mold." Unlike the traditional staging of Equus, this one does not feature elaborate costuming and props. Horses are represented by wire-frame horse heads that allow the actors' expressions to be seen through the mesh. "We wanted to use their faces," Gilmartin said. "It makes it a lot more suspenseful to see those eyes." Equus is being presented in the High Rise East Rathskellar, which seats 60 people, so the audience will be intimate with all action on the stage. "It's very close and intense so it can be unnerving," Gilmartin said. Equus will open tonight and will run this Friday and Saturday, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday of next week. All shows are at 8 p.m. in the Rathskellar. Tickets are $5 and will be sold on Locust Walk, the Annenberg Box Office, and at the door.
College senior Tanika Beamon, an Anthropology and Folklore major, almost gave up her hopes of becoming a professor because of the lack of support she received from University faculty. Then in the fall of her junior year, Beamon was selected for the Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship Program -- a program which provides its members with the money to do almost anything they want to enhance their undergraduate education. So this summer, Beamon went to study at Oxford University's African Studies Center, and now plans to pursue an advanced folklore or anthropolgy degree. The fellowship program has improved life for Beamon and eight other minority undergraduates -- seven of them seniors -- since it began in early 1989. Each Mellon fellow is matched with a top minority faculty member -- among them history professors Mary Frances Berry and Evelyn Higginbotham -- who provides advice and research opportunities. "We want them all to turn into college professors in the next 10 years," said Valarie Cade, assistant provost and assistant to the president. Cade is also a Mellon mentor. Cade said that the program's mentor aspect is very important for encouraging minority students. "It's important to have persons of color and women as role models for persons of color and women," Cade said. "When I studied American History, all these white guys did everything. I said, 'Where was everybody else?' " Cade wrote the proposal in late 1988 which earned the University a place in the program. There are now chapters at more than two dozen top universities nationwide. Janice Curington, the newly-appointed assistant College dean for minority affairs and advising, also said that the increased access to minority senior faculty is a benefit. "The closeness encourages African Americans," Curington said this week. "It makes graduate school a reality for them." College senior Duchess Harris, who is a Mellon fellow, said that the program emphasizes the value of a Ph.D. "Not enough prestige is put on getting a Ph.D at a pre-professional school like Penn," she said. "But the program gives us the message that it is important."