Splash Magazines Rhinoceros Review – The Zoo is Open! By Elaine L. Mura

A master of the Theatre of the Absurd, Eugene Ionesco penned RHINOCEROS in 1959, with its first performance in 1961. The production wowed enthusiastic audiences and won a Tony Award for Zero Mostel for best performance by a leading actor in a play. RHINOCEROS was adapted to an urban American setting for a 1973 film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. The script was later adapted to an American shopping mall for a 1990 musical called “Born Again.” In Israel, rhinoceroization became colloquial for getting swayed in nationalistic fervor or another other popular movement. Clearly, Ionesco did something right. To the delight of audiences roaring with laughter, this rollicking tour de force has been revived at the Pacific Resident Theatre. And, given today’s political climate, not a moment too soon.

Keith Stevenson, Carole Weyers, and Jeff Lorch – Photo by Vitor Martins

Imagine the surprise in a small provincial French town when people begin to turn into rhinos. Soon, almost everyone has succumbed to “rhinocitis” except for Berenger (Keith Stevenson), the town drunk and epitome of a loser. Just one man to stem the tide after Berenger’s best friend Jean (Alex Fernandez) can’t resist the animal in himself and even Berenger’s girlfriend Daisy (Carole Weyers) hears the seductive siren call of the rhino.

Peter Elbling, Brad Greenquist, Keith Stevenson, and Jeff Lorch – Photo by Vitor Martins

This side-splitting tale harnesses the extraordinary skills of a perfect cast as they fight – and then begin to succumb – to their own fatal attraction. Jean’s descent into rhinocitis is a joy to behold, and special kudos are in order for Alex Fernandez. Director Guillermo Cienfuegos has outdone himself as he helms this uproarious cautionary fable of lemmings going to the sea – and the one hold-out who may just be too dumb to follow suit. RHINOCEROS is a superb blend of slapstick and satire.

Jeff Lorch, Sarah Brooke, Keith Stevenson, and Carole Weyers – Photo by Vitor Martins

Experts have suggested that the basic theme of RHINOCEROS arose from Ionesco’s own life. Born in Romania of a Romanian Orthodox father and French Protestant mother, Ionesco attended the university in Bucharest, where he discovered that one of his professors was using lectures to recruit students into the “Legion.” In Ionesco’s own words:

 

Keith Stevenson and Alex Fernandez – Photo by Vitor Martins

“University professors, students, intellectuals were turning Nazi, becoming Iron Guards one after another…from time to time, one of the group would come out and say, `I don’t agree at all with them, to be sure, but on certain points, I must admit, for example, the Jews…’ and that kind of comment was a symptom…that person would become a Nazi three weeks later…towards the end, it was only three or four of us who resisted.”

The Rhinos are Coming – Photo by Vitor Martins

David Mauer’s set design is close to brilliant as the actors wander into the town square, discuss the problem in a law publications office, and follow Berenger into his bedroom. There are three very striking and effective scene shifts on a very small stage. Justin Preston’s lighting, Christopher Moscatiello’s sound, and Christine Cover Ferro’s costumes play a giant role in helping the story along. Lots of rhinos storming around don’t hurt the show either. Finally, let’s not forget the original music – so integral to the ambiance – created by Kangaroo Rat with an accordion, foot tambourine, melodica (Tim Desrosiers), and glockenspiel (Anna Bell). Get set for a fun evening.

SPLASH SELECTION

RHINOCEROS runs through September 10, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays (no performances August 4, 5, 6). The Pacific Resident Theatre is located at 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. Tickets range from $25 to $34 ($3 discounts available for seniors and students on Thursdays and Fridays). For information and reservations, call 310-822-8392 or go online.