THIS SHOW RUNS APPROX. 2-1/4 HOURS, including intermission.
THE HOUSE OPENS 45 MINUTES BEFORE CURTAIN. You may want to arrive early to enjoy the exhibit in our art gallery with refreshments ranging from coffee and cookies to beer and wine.
POST-SHOW DISCUSSION: Join the company of Rhinoceros for a post-show discussion following the Sunday matinee on January 21st.
AUDIO-DESCRIPTION: The Sunday, January 21st performance will be audio-described, based on reservations. Click here for a description of this and other access services at TRP
About the Show
(company members are listed at the bottom, following the interview with the director)
It would seem an ordinary day. The shops are open, people are heading for work, the cafe is setting up, and Jean is annoyed with his slacker friend, Berenger, who’s hung over as usual. But this is no ordinary day, for there are rumblings of change. Rumblings, in fact, caused by the arrival of a rowdy and unexpected newcomer to this sleepy hamlet: a rhinoceros. Um, make that multiple rhinoceroses.
Written in the aftermath of WWII and the spectre of fascism, Ionesco’s Rhinoceros stands as a pillar of the Theatre of the Absurd movement – joining the likes of Becket and Sartre in writing wildly weird plays that explore the more outrageous ends of the human experience.
Following his productions of Richard III and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, George M. Roesler returns to tackle yet another monster of a play, arena style.
Interview with the Director
Q: The announcement of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros in TRP’s season has caused quite a bit of buzz among the creative community. Why do you think actors, designers and audiences are excited about the prospect of creating and seeing this particular show?
“I’m not capitulating!” (Berenger)
I feel there is a fascination with the absurdity found in this type of play. It’s theatrical and strange set of characters give actors and designers a depth of choices for the creation of the visual imagery. I think audiences are fascinated with the idea of characters who turn into rhinoceroses on stage-it’s absurd! Like life itself! People are particularly curious as to how these transformations will be accomplished. Rhinoceros begins with the premise that it is possible for a human being to transform into a rhinoceros. “Drama lies in extreme exaggeration of the feelings, an exaggeration that dislocates flat everyday reality.” (Eugene Ionesco, Notes and Counter Notes) The play is very much a Burlesque; funny and poignant at the same time. “There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief “There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief” (Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower) This lyric from Bob Dylan’s song All Along the Watchtower, speaks to the apocalyptic themes reflected in Rhinoceros. I love to do plays which have Shakespearean ideals. Ionesco was known as the “Shakespeare of the Absurd.”
I sometimes wonder if I exist myself.” (Berenger)
Q: What do you find appealing or compelling about this show? You’ve directed it previously; what opportunities or twists do you look forward to bringing to the production in our arena setting?
“Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together.” (Eugene Ionesco)
The Theatre in the Round stage is the perfect venue for this play. I directed the play in 1988 on a proscenium stage which has a natural barrier between the audience and performers. The arena has an intimacy that enhances the audience experience. Wouldn’t it be interesting if all of a sudden a rhinoceros enters the theatre and sits down next to you to watch the play? What do you do? Talk about the play? As the play progresses the space gets smaller and smaller as if closing in on the characters, creating a claustrophobic environment. In this small space sound and lighting will play an intricate role assaulting the audience’s senses. We hope you will feel the presence of the rhinoceroses. “But what is absurd, or rather what is unusual, is first and foremost what exists, reality.” (Eugene Ionesco, Conversations with Eugene Ionesco)
“One of the great critics in New York complains that, after destroying one conformism, I put nothing else in its place, leaving him and the audience in a vacuum. That is exactly what I wanted to do. A free man should pull himself out of vacuity on his own, by his own efforts and not by the efforts of other people.” (Eugene Ionesco)
Q: For many of us, this is a rare opportunity to see a classic example of absurdist theater, in which the ordinary intermingles with some highly unusual situations. Mindful of spoilers, can you share any of the technical challenges the show presents? For the actors, what are the physical challenges/opportunities of the roles?
“All theatre is absurd.” (Eugene Ionesco)
I am so fortunate to have a very talented Design Team working on Rhinoceros. Their creativity is an inspiration to us all. The designs for the show will be visually dynamic for the audience, engaging them and bringing them into the reality of the play. As the play takes place in four different locations we needed to come up with a unit design that would, with movable pieces, give us an impression of those locations. The scene changes will take place right in front of the audience transforming the set to the new locations, mirroring the way some of the characters will metamorphosis into rhinoceroses in front of the audience.
Lighting will add to the absurdity of the scenes creating pools of light and by using color enhance the visual imagery. Sound and Music will add depth to the audience experience as we need to hear and feel the rhinoceroses stampeding through town, trumpeting to each other transforming into a musical, rhythmic beat driving the emotional aspects of a scene.
One of the visual challenges is what will the characters look like after they transform into a rhinoceros? Our mask, costume and prop designers will create visual treats that will engage the audience’s imagination. The production has such a visceral connection between the technical areas and the performers. The actors are faced with many performance challenges during the play. The play is physically and vocally demanding with many of them portraying multiple character and all but one character has to metamorphosis into a rhinoceros.
“Berenger finds himself alone in a dehumanized world where each person tried to be just like all the others. It’s just because they all tried to be like each other that they became dehumanized, or rather depersonalized, which is after all the same thing.” (Eugene Ionesco)
Q: The play revolves around the escalation of events as some unruly rhinoceros (rhinoceroses?) encroach upon a once-peaceful hamlet. Talk about the context in which Ionesco wrote the show. How do the parables or metaphors he was drawing on, relate to our society today?
“I can easily picture the worst, because the worst can easily happen.” (Eugene Ionesco)
At the beginning of World War II, Ionesco was living in Romania where he witnessed the rise of Nazi ideology. He began writing about his own experiences of the “terror” watching his liberal friends transform into Nazi sympathizers, and seeing the persecution of his Jewish friends who suffered under the wave of anti-Semitism in Romania. As we witness the play unfold, each character contracts rhinoceritis for very different reasons. Reasons that echoes the rationales and excuses of the groups who succumb to the Fascist mobs.
However, as you see from the quote below, Ionesco meant the play to be about the broader issue of conformity. All you have to do to connect the plays metaphors or parables to our society today is to read the headlines, watch television or look at the newsfeeds on your mobile device. Each day we are inundated by stories of rhinoceritis. The major themes of will and responsibility, logic and absurdity are echoed throughout our land today. The major motif of the rhinoceros is symbolic of the brutality of the mob and what the mob is willing to do to prove itself right. Ionesco’s uses the color green for the rhinoceroses, symbolizes the green shirts worn be the Iron Guard legionnaires or the green uniforms worn by the Nazi occupiers cir.1940 in Romania. Our uniform for the rhinoceroses is a red turtleneck with black or green color military pants, to symbolize the groups conformity.
“People always wish me to spell out whether I mean the rhinos to be fascists or communists. Rhinoceritis is not an illness of the Right or the Left; it cannot be contained within geo-political borders. Nor is it characteristic of a social class. It is the malady of conformity which knows no bounds, no boundaries.” (Eugene Ionesco)
Q: Although the play premiered in 1960, it seems awfully relevant to human behavior today, especially in the cyber age. As the characters variously discuss what if anything should be done about the rhinoceros situation, arguing with spurious logic, debating various eyewitness accounts, disagreeing over irrelevant facts, and ever moving toward panic, I couldn’t help but think of the parallels to social media today. Are you leveraging any of those parallels?
“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” (Voltaire)
We are letting the script speak for itself as I think it is as relevant in 2018 as it was in 1960. Ionesco intended the play to have universal themes which will resonate with today’s audiences. You cannot help but reflect on what is happening in society today when you hear the dialogue and listen to the characters discuss the problem of the rhinoceroses. In the Office scene, the characters are having a discussion about an article that appeared in the local paper about a cat that was run over and killed by a rhinoceros running through the town square the day before. As they argue one character states emphatically, “I never believe journalists. They’re all liars. I don’t need them to tell me what to think; I believe what I see with my own eyes.” Sound familiar? Rhinoceros has dialogue like that throughout the play which allows us to do a play written in 1959 and be confident todays audiences will find something within the play that they can relate to and recognize in their own lives. As you state, the parallels to social media today are clear and with very little manipulation, the play speaks clearly to identifiable human behavior. The audience may think we adjusted the dialogue to be relevant today but, in fact, we haven’t.
“Rhinoceros is certainly an anti-Nazi play, yet it is also and mainly an attack on collective hysteria and the epidemics that lurk beneath the surface of reason and ideas but are none the less serious collective diseases passed off as ideologies.” (Eugene Ionesco)
Q: Are you setting the show in any particular era? There are a few cultural references that are pretty arcane today. Will you be updating any of these to touch on more recognizable references?
“After all, perhaps it’s we who need saving. Perhaps we are the abnormal ones.” (Daisy)
I have set the play in the contemporary era, in a small town in America. As I began to work on the play I keep seeing it in today’s society and in our country. The ideals expressed throughout the script echoed in my head, “these things are happening right now, to us!” Each day I would hear or read something that connected me back to the script. The universality of the themes was clear and with a little adjustment to some of the dialogue you would think the play was written today. As we began to rehearse the play the actors added bits and pieces to bring a contemporary flair to the script. Cell phones appeared and even Siri was added at one point in the play. I have edited around some of the cultural references that are arcane today with references the audience will recognize. The costumes will be contemporary, reflecting the status and taste of the individual characters. When Rhinoceros performances begin the audience will be entertained by the absurdity of the characters and situations found in the play. “The work of rehearsal is looking for meaning and then making it meaningful.” (Peter Brook) Each night at rehearsal we are discovering new aspects of the play, interpreting new ideals. Ionesco is such a brilliant writer; his words open up endless possibilities.
“Strictly speaking my play is not even a satire: it is a fairly objective description of the growth of fanaticism, of the birth of a totalitarianism that grows, propagates, conquers and transforms a whole world and, naturally, being totalitarian transforms it totally.” (Eugene Ionesco)
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
“You lose yourself, you reappear/You suddenly find you got nothing to fear” (Bob Dylan)
Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros is one of my favorite plays and when I saw it on the list of possible plays to be staged at Theatre in the Round I immediately marked it as my number one choice. I feel fortunate to be directing it today. I am finding it inspiring and challenging at the same time. I have the most creative ensemble of actors. The versatility and resourcefulness they bring to their roles enhance the rehearsal process. The collaborative nature of theatre is alive and well at TRP. Rhinoceros is not performed very often in theatres today. The Theatre in the Round audiences will have an opportunity to see, and be part of, one of the great plays of our times and a chance to witness something unique.
“I personally would like to bring a tortoise onto the stage, turn it into a racehorse, then into a hat, a song, a dragoon and a fountain of water. One can dare anything in the theatre and it is the place where one dares the least.” (Eugene Ionesco, Notes and Counter Notes)
A Waitress / Mrs. Boeuf: Hannah Halvorson
Lady with the Cat / Botard: Laura Hoover
Berenger: Lucas Gerstner
John: Clint Allen
Cafe Chef / Ms. Papillion: Erin Granger
Cafe Proprietor / Papillion’s Assistant: Kelly Lynn Regan
Cafe Bus Boy / Firefighter: Jerome J. Urmann
A Logician / Office Notary: Charles Numrich
A Gentleman / Office Janitor: Phil Holt
Daisy: Jane Catherine Sterk
Dudard: Austan Peterschick
ARTISTIC & PRODUCTION STAFF
Director: George M. Roesler
Set Designer: Dietrich Poppen
Costume Designer: Bobbi Iverson-Roesler
Lighting Designer: Mark Kieffer
Prop Designer: Robert J. Smith
Sound Designer: James R. Harding
Composer: Donald Sweet
Mask Designer: Kimber Lawler
Stage Manager: Briana K. Roesler Skowronek