Seven Siblings' Artistic Director Will King says he’s adamant on producing shows that are inherently difficult – and Rhinoceros is definitely one of those shows.
Written in the late 1950s, and full of absurdist elements, producing this play poses a great challenge to current artists: its portrayal must be relevant and relatable to audience members today.
Here’s some background information on Rhinoceros. The play was written in 1959, by playwright Eugene Ionesco, in the aftermath of World War Two. Ionesco was the son of an orthodox Romanian Nationalist father and protestant mother who came from a family of Sephardic Jews. With the uprise of anti-semitism in the first half of the century, this heritage labeled Ionesco as Jewish, in a Romania that was rapidly adapting Nazi ideals. This struggle to maintain his identity during this change is what fueled the creation of this play, in which the main character Berenger (Veronica Baron) attempts to maintain his identity in a world of people transforming into rhinoceroses.
That being said, if you do not know this information about the play, you may find yourself a bit lost throughout the performance. In the first two acts of the play, characters begin turning into rhinoceroses and the transformation appears to be painful and unwanted. During the third act though, it almost seems as though the theme has changed, as more and more people become rhinos at will (which completely makes sense in the context of Nazi Europe), with only a few characters struggling to maintain their identities.
I had a hard time deciding if this play was anti-conformity or anti-individuality. There seems to be elements of both at play in this performance, which does create a significant air of confusion while watching the performance. But perhaps this is the point. The overarching message of the play is definitely open to individual interpretation.
Rhinoceros was produced as part of Seven Sibling Theatre’s "Rhinoceros Project,” in which the company had ten days to experiment with the script and break the gender confinements of the characters. The amount of work that the ensemble put into this experimentation is obvious as their performances are top notch, especially Baron. She manages to take us through the arc of her character Berenger with great dedication, going from a drunken, tardy, underachiever to a hyper-paranoid wreck. Her performance helps the audience through the absurd story, and gives them a grounded character in a world where it is completely normal to turn into a rhino.
The choice to swap genders of some of the characters is bold, but for those unfamiliar with the original play, it goes almost completely unnoticed. The characters seem so real and honest that it would not matter if they were male or female.
The Logician character (Madryn McCabe) serves as almost a commentator. Early on, she explains that logic cannot always be logical (if that even makes sense), and helps give the audience the idea that straight-forward logic will be taking a backseat to absurdity throughout the rest of the performance.
While the play does take its time to help its audience through some of the difficult parts, I feel like this is a play that didn’t need to be put on, at least not for its themes. The world we live in is losing conformity day after day, so I feel on that level it cannot really connect to us. The only aspect of this performance that I see connecting with audiences is in the breaking of traditional gender roles in the performance. While the performances of the ensemble are quite powerful I feel that the themes are lacking a connection to the audience for this play to really create an impact.
Rhinoceros runs at The Rhino Bar and Grille until June 5. For more information, visit http://www.sevensiblingstheatre.ca/.