The mere fact that David Harris dared to stage
Rhinoceros at the Harris Center tells one that here we have a brave
director, who respects and trusts theatre goers in the region to be
appreciative of an adult theme, and a director who trusts the student
actors of Folsom Lake College to do justice to this work of art. Mr.
Harris’s trust in his actors was well-founded, for they bring to the
stage Ionesco’s drama in full force. Rhinoceros is a play for
thinking adults of today as it was for post-WWII war-weary adults. The
message as delivered by this excellent band of actors last night states
ferociously: beware of “isms,” whatever they purport. Keep your common
sense, your humanity, your love of your friends alive and active. Don’t
fall for what the crowd is saying; examine the message for its true
content. So with humorous horror, just as one would watch something
awful and not be able to take one’s eyes from the scene, Rhinoceros
played out before the stunned and sometimes uncomfortable laughter of
the audience as they watched an awful thing happening to ordinary
citizens. The staging, sound and lighting, and especially the
acting—all were superb.
Ionesco, the playwright, created a shadow dialogue in his
play, delivered by academic characters and intellectuals who analyze
away reality, a shadow dialogue which enhances the conversation between
the main character, Berenger and his friends. It’s very clever. “How
many horns does a rhinoceros have” becomes the question analyzed ad
infinitum, instead of “What is a rhinoceros, a very dangerous
animal, doing here at the café, threatening our very lives?” In past
times the rhinoceros could have stood for any of the evils man faced.
The rhinoceros is just as relevant today. What dangerous threats to
civilization are stamping their hooves and stampeding closer? How many
citizens will join the stampede? How many will stand fast and expose
them for what they are?
In the performance at the Harris Center last night, you
have the conformist, Jean, so proud of how he looks, his strength, his
polished shoes, played by Bert Andersson, as the first citizen to be
duped. His metamorphosis from human to rhinoceros was at turns funny
and frightening. You have to see this on stage to understand how
riveting it is. The ingenious lighting, throwing green and orange
glares on his skin as he changes, works to pin one to the seat. The
housewife, played by Afton Parker, running around hysterically with
her bloodied cat clutched to her bosom, adds to the unreal
disintegration of community sanity. The rhinos thundering, threatening,
pounding the ground, getting closer as their numbers grow, scared me.
Their minimalist costumes worked like magic, letting the former human
show, while growing a grotesque superstructure.
Berenger, played by Wesley A. Murphy, engaged, demanded
sympathy, begged for protection, for love, for understanding. Berenger,
getting none of the balms he desperately needed, descended farther and
farther into despair. What an Elly-winning performance Wesley
delivered. On stage for two-and-a-half hours, all the while
anxiety-ridden by what he sees happening around him, Wesley Murphy gave
every ounce of his energy and filled this role as though Ionesco wrote
it for him. How will he repeat these draining performances night after
night? A real actor, he must be, trained in Folsom. Hats off!
There were many other outstanding performances, Dudard,
played by Thomas Dean, Botard, played by Amir Sharafeh, and Daisy,
played by Britt Poole, all were so normal in the beginning, and then
slowly and surely, they get compromised, confused, and co-opted, finally
If you care about what’s afoot in the world around you,
if you want to be on the lookout for dangerous animals in our own time,
don’t miss this production of Rhinoceros.