To conform or not to conform, that is the question. This is the conundrum which is explored in <em>Rhinoceros</em>, a play by Eugene Ionesco. Adapted and directed by the talented Martha Ross, <em>Rhinoceros </em>is a treat for all the UW students who love theatre and its many nuances. </p>
A tragicomedy to the core, Rhinoceros is an allegory which parabolizes the human willingness to conform to a group. The play begins with the story of Berenger (Alan Shonfield), a confused, alcohol-ridden man in an unnamed small town whose lack of ambition is being chastised by his friend Jean (Sam Beuerle), an immaculately refined man. Suddenly, animal grunts and snorts fill the room, and we are told that this is the infamous rhinoceros that is running about town, which shocks the townspeople. This rhinoceros becomes the reason for instilling fear, panic, and chaos in the hearts and minds of the townspeople and us as the audience. We can hear it, we can feel its threatening presence, but we simply cannot see it.
On its next visit, the rhinoceros tramples a cat. The townspeople employ the use of a logician (Meghan Landers) to make sense of what species of rhinoceros they are dealing with, but one thing is for sure: the threat that was mainly distant now looms closer, building up the dramatic tension.
The scene changes and now we are in Berenger’s office, where the workers are doing dull, repetitive secretarial work. Over here, the employees argue about the existence of the rhinoceros. Botard (Eric Kim) is a skeptic who refuses to believe in the existence of this threat, and seems to be living in denial. Other employees like Daisy, a love interest of Berenger (Mollie Garrett), argue that it is there.
The play escalates at this point. The rhinoceros becomes responsible for claiming some of the characters. First Jean turns into a rhinoceros, and then Papillion (Emma Mann), Berenger’s boss. Then Botard metamorphosizes, followed by Dudard (Michael To) , the other love interest of Daisy). People are falling like nine-pins and the dramatic tension is at its peak at this point.
Will Berenger also succumb to this savagery where humanism gets shoved behind animalistic brutality, or will he resist this and fight the epidemic to restore the human race? Will the romance between Daisy and Berenger bloom into a relationship, or will the sheer brutality of the rhinoceros drive them apart? Will the human race continue, or will we live in a post-apocalyptic world where humans experience transmorphism and turn into something green, ugly, and with one (or two) horns on their heads? Watch the show to find out!
It is apparent that this play is an allegory to the rampant spread of Nazism and fascism during the interwar period. The play, like the era, epitomizes escalating tensions, the contested positions of people, and how everyone tries to make sense of their surroundings. According to Ross, the play is immensely relevant in today’s rapidly globalizing world, where the Internet has made a “group culture” where individual reflection often gets undermined. In a conversation with Imprint, Ross explained how “Je suis Charlie” was a perfect example of this bandwagoning; regardless of motives, people have stopped reflecting, which creates modern day rhinoceroses who conform to a group for approval and inclusion. In Rhinoceros, the characters are challenged on personal levels to confront their surroundings. The play is a specimen from the “theater of the absurd” genre, which portrays human existence to be very fickle, and we can see elements of this within the plot.
The set of the play is simple and complements the theme of a return to basicness and primality of human existence. The colours are raw and earthen, and remind us of the primordial nature of our being.
The show will be held in Modern Languages March 18-21.