Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: (Vancouver) Rhinoceros

Matt Reznek and Georgia Beaty (photo: Tim Matheson)

A herd of rhinos storms the UBC stage
Theatre students do Ionesco’s work justice in a strong and smart production
by Chris Lane

UBC Theatre students transform into a herd of stomping rhinoceroses in their current production of Rhinoceros, by Eugène Ionesco.

Ionesco’s play is a prime example of absurdist theatre. It’s funny, but it’s also a tragedy, and has a lot of meaning behind the ridiculous plot.

The play is set in a French village, whose townspeople are turning into rhinoceroses, one by one. The protagonist, Berenger, is a lazy fellow with a penchant for alcohol, but is forced to take life more seriously as he sees everyone around him willfully transform.

the characters in Rhinoceros show just how easily people can be swayed into believing something crazy

The playwright hails from Eastern Europe and saw how totalitarianism and Naziism affected the populace. This play is a satirical take on the seemingly mindless conformity of such times, and the characters in Rhinoceros show just how easily people can be swayed into believing something crazy. Like wanting to turn into a rhinoceros.

Director Chelsea Haberlin brings the audience into the action by staging the play in the round, and having the transformed actors march throughout the theatre so no one can escape their presence. The rhinoceroses move around the room as one, with synchronized stomp, to a soundtrack of trumpets. As their number grows, they become increasingly ominous. Their march is militaristic and mechanical to convey the oppressive conformity, and their masks effectively remove them from their individuality.

Matt Reznek capably carries the show in the taxing role of Berenger. Joel Garner is noteworthy for a violent on-stage descent into rhinoceritis, as is Georgia Beaty for her spirited performance as Daisy, Berenger’s love interest. Being a student production, there are some experimental methods used by the supporting cast, which sometimes went too far. Distinctive walks and mannerisms are great for building character, but a couple of them were a bit distracting.

The costumes by Christina Dao are excellent, both for the human characters and for their rhinoceros counterparts. The sound design and choreography that create the herd of rhinos bring the show together, and help make the main characters’ emotional journeys palpable.

Rhinoceros is a powerful exhibition of the perils of conformity, and provokes thoughts on themes such as free will, reason, power, and personal responsibility. The intellectual side of the play is very accessible, so viewers don’t need to worry about the message going way over their heads, and might even gain some new insights into the human experience.

Rhinoceros runs until February 9 at the Telus Studio Theatre, in the Chan Centre at UBC. 

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