A.C.T.’s version of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros is only an hour and a half, substantially cut down from the original, three-and-a-half-hour epic. All I have to say about that is thank goodness.
I don’t mean to say that this show is not worth seeing. The acting is great, the direction is spot on and the changes to the script were fantastic. The show also highlights some poignant issues in our world today including structural power, preconceived notions and the power of the masses.
But would I spend my money and my time on this show? No.
Rhinoceros follows every-man character and alcoholic, Berenger, as he deals with the absurd situation of his community dissolving around him as one by one his friends and acquaintances give in to hatred and become rhinoceroses. Not metaphorical rhinos, mind you, but actual, stampeding rhinoceroses.
There are plenty of wonderful things about this production, but I mostly want to explain why I’m not recommending this highly rated show to you.
It boils down to this—the show is not enjoyable. Furthermore, its unenjoyableness does not serve any larger purpose. Despite its timeliness (the words “fake news” literally appear in the original script), the show doesn’t illuminate anything new about our current situation, or even the situation that inspired the play.
This version of the show was edited and directed by Tony Award winning director, Frank Galati. His enthusiasm for the show shines through, particularly in its most absurd moments. The actors, particularly Matt Decaro as Gene and Trish Mulholland as Mrs. Beouf, are impressively down to earth while leaving plenty of room for levity and the absurd situations of the play.
Ionesco’s 1959 script was initially inspired by his own experience in inter-war France where he watched the people around him slowly turn toward Nazi-ism. It’s a powerful metaphor, but not one that hits particularly hard in Galati’s scaled-down version of the play. Because there is no moral to the story, no conclusion that makes you feel validated or feel anything really. The show ends and it’s just kind of a bummer. I understand that it is trying to reflect the current political and social climate, but there’s no action at the end. There’s no rallying cry to do something or even a touching emotional moment, it just kind of ends with Berenger as the only non-rhinoceros in sight. He gives an impassioned speech about deciding to still be a man, and despite the actor’s best efforts it just doesn’t resonate. It’s interesting, I suppose, but still a bummer.
Rhinoceros is playing now through June 23, 2019 at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. The show is one and a half hours including one intermission. Tickets range $15-$100. Please note that this production includes the use of theatrical smoke, haze and loud sound effects.
Photos courtesy of Kevin Berne