When this scribe studied Eugene Ionesco’s ‘Rhinoceros’; my professor premised his lecture by stating that the story was allegorical, in spite of the writer’s insistence that such was not the intention. A tragicomedy in the theatre of the absurd style, it metaphorically equates the 1880’s far-right authoritarian political philosophies of Nietzsche & Dostoyevsky (Fascism) with any incremental philosophical or dogmatic change. The U-Waterloo Drama Faculty and director Martha Ross manage to present the play with subtlety yet impact. It’s a true gem.
The title refers to the huge herbivore of the ungulate species whose habitats are Asia & Africa. To say any more would be a spoiler… so; it’s the cast characters that must predominate. The most interesting role is that of Berenger, an everyman whose tardiness and alcoholism are both an irritation and yet endearing quality to his associates. Alan Shonfield captures all the internal conflicts such a persona faces with energy and presence. Ross has him underscore emotions by elaborate posturing and facial expression. He almost telegraphs the dialogue soon to be uttered. She also creates the same strong portrayal in his protagonist/friend ‘Jean’ who is perceptively played by Sam Beuerle.
There are two strong support roles that supportively play off each other. Meghan Landers & Madeline Samms contribute most of the comedic moments albeit with erudition and especially the latter’s blatant thespian thingy’s (physical shticks) that viscerally impact. The love interest is provided by Mollie Garrett and she flounces. Readers will probably grasp that I’m unimpressed with ‘flounce’, however, her affection, even under duress, for Shonfield’s character exhibits instinctive acting ability. The purely comedic character is Rebecca Birrell and she’s a cat person…enough said!
This presentation is definitely a manifestation of the director’s assessment. From the sound effects (especially before curtain) and creative stage set, Ross manages to project imagery without neglecting the message intrinsic in the play; i.e. everyone feels a need to integrate and conform. She takes her protagonist & his cohorts through the full gamut of Liz Kubler-Ross’ “DABDA” phases from denial to acceptance.
RHINOCEROS is a tough play to stage and an even tougher challenge for an actor to represent. The UWaterloo theatre team can be proud of what they have brought to their stage. The ‘crash’ (herd of rhinos) will be at the University’s Theatre in the campus’ Modern Language Bldg. until March 21st.
**P.S. The Indian Rhino has one horn; the African variety has two!