By Eugene Ionesco
Directed by Cosmin Chivu
Midtown International Theater Festival
The New 42nd Street Theater (279-4200)
Equity showcase (Festival closes Aug. 5; call for schedule)
Review by Ken Jaworowski
The InterArt Group’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros was much like the animal itself: strong, fearless, and at times a bit too aggressive. Yet despite some unevenness, this was a production well worth seeing, featuring a cast and crew with intensity to spare.
An Absurdist classic since its first production in 1959, Rhinoceros tells the story of a group of citizens who one by one choose to turn themselves into rhinoceroses. As written by Ionesco, the allegorical tale is a masterpiece on various levels: as social commentary, as comic farce, as psychological exploration. Although the play appears to be a direct condemnation of Nazism, its themes are universal in their warnings against all forms of blind conformity. "Rhinoceros is certainly an anti-Nazi play," Ionesco once wrote. "Yet it is also and mainly an attack on collective hysteria."
Rather than emphasize Ionesco’s droll wordplay or slapstick comedy, director Cosmin Chivu fashioned a darker, ominous show both foreboding and somber. The result was fascinating, though it sometimes suffered from its lack of whimsy. Ionesco chose to one-up society’s nonsense with a preposterousness all his own; Rhinoceros works best as a painful message delivered in a hilarious envelope. But although the humor was understated, the production retained the power to enthrall. Employing gloomy lighting and angry, choreographed movements for the converted citizens, this Rhinoceros even had the ability to frighten. Percussionist Paula Jeanine Potocki, who stood to the side of the stage and supplied the show’s hypnotic orchestration, added immeasurably to the sense of danger.
As Berenger, the dogged holdout against the new society, Fabio Cardoso was effective in his confusion of the changing world and in his resolve to remain human. As his friend Jean, it was Kevin McKelvy who best set the tone of the production. His Jean, while undergoing transformation, offered the evening’s most frightening and resonant image. The rest of the 13-member cast also performed with vigor, though initially perhaps a bit too much – their timing was at first undecided. Yet as this 90-minute one-act moved past a shaky start, the cast caught each other’s spark and brought Rhinoceros to a fiery conclusion.
Rhinoceros is an important work, a play both enlightening and entertaining. It is a tough beast to tame, and in the hands of InterAct, only rarely did it run out of control. This energetic company held tight to the darker aspects of the story, and gave the audience a ferocious ride for their money.
(Also featuring: Laura Rikard, Shenica-Rochelle Odom, Winona Sorensen, Nick Bixby, Rock Kohli, Paul Fidalgo, Jennifer Malloy, Philip Williams, Jim Thalman, Josh Anthony Iacovelli, Shenica-Rochelle Odom)
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Copyright 2001 Ken Jaworowski