Thought-provoking Ionesco play arrives on the Toronto stage
Douze Citrons have chosen a timely moment to mount their production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros at the Aki Studio. A quaint french town is turned upside down as its residents start changing into Rhinoceroses. The change happens slowly at first, and the animals seem to cause little harm, but soon life in the town comes to a standstill as more and more of its inhabitants transform. As the pressure mounts, the choice to remain human becomes less and less attractive.
When writing the play, Ionesco was concerned with how ordinary people and even his own friends got caught up in the Nazi and fascist wave that swept across Europe and resulted in World War II. Many parallels can be drawn between the experiences of the characters and our own experiences in this age of Trumpism. This show will challenge your notions of “this could never happen here,” make you question what is really at stake when we accept a new ludicrous status quo as normal and will leave you thinking about what the price of resisting really is.
I really enjoyed the show’s production values. Almost all of the set (designed by Hans Krause) was covered in newspapers which evoked a gray rhinoceros skin and also served to highlight the central character’s feeling of being trapped by the news and inability to distract himself or escape.
The set was versatile and scene changes usually cued live piano music composed by Connor Delaney. My favourite part in the whole show was when the pianist, who had also changed into a Rhinoceros, plays the piano with a small mallet in one hand to show how clumsy she had now become (it still sounds great though!). I just wish the scene changes were less complex: during one transition in the third act, the action was suspended for about 2 minutes while the actors moved the set around.
I enjoyed the third act much more than the first two, possibly because that is when we start to realize the stakes and understand the reality of the situation. Apart from Rhinoceros sightings, the first two acts are mostly devoted to philosophical witticisms and I can unashamedly say that most went over my head, so I found myself feeling bored.
There are also several conversations going on all at once in the first act such as between the Logician (Danilo Neiva) and the Old Gent (Pablo Odile Ogunlesi) and the lead character Berenger (Paul-Daniel Torres) and his friend Jean (Connor Sharpe), and I found it difficult to try and keep up with both.
During those conversations, Neiva had a tendency of not enunciating clearly so I could not hear what he was saying. Added to that, I found that there was very little energy between him and Ogunlesi, so their delivery seemed flat and the lines felt stale. I personally found no humor in sequences that were clearly meant to be funny.
Torres, who is on stage for the entire third act, does an admirable job of keeping up the tension. Berenger feels responsibility for his inability to stop the transformations happening around him, and often lapses into lamentation and self-doubt. While I found that Torres’ performance sometimes came off as whiny, he managed to make his anxiety and doubt palpable.
One person who I wish I had seen more of was Augusta Monet, the owner of a cat run over by a rhino. She managed to make me laugh with almost no dialogue by using her physicality to respond to situations and stole the scene a few times.
In his notes, the director, Lochlan Cox, hopes that this, limited 3-day run of the, play will make us think and entertain us. While I can say that the play made me think, I believe it needs some more work on its first and second act before it can become more engaging.
- Rhinoceros runs from 5th to 7th April, 2018.
Photo provided by Douze Citrons.