Photo credit: Tim Matheson
Photo Credit: Tim Matheson

Actors: Matt Reznek, Georgia Beaty. Photo Credit: Tim MathesonTheatre at UBC
Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco
Translated by Martin Crimp

Dates and Venue 24 January - 9 February 2013, 7.30 pm | Telus Studio Theatre, Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, UBC

Director Chelsea Haberlin Set and Lighting Design Matthew Norman Costume Design Christina Dao Sound Design Won-Kyoon Han Stage Manager Jayda Paige Novak

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Satire is an art form that often has a short life, but Ionesco's Rhinoceros, a hit of the early 1960's, one of the best of the Absurdist plays, is as apt and as ridiculously comical as ever.  Martin Crimp's new, up-to-the-minute translation (Hilary Clinton might have mined the text for lines for her most recent speech) has been given an invigorating, immediate interpretation by Chelsea Haberlin, director, and her talented student cast.

One day, in a French village, a rhinoceros comes thundering past with the noise of an earthquake. Bérengar (Matt Reznek), anti-hero, chronically late, always untidy, drinks just a bit too much, can't even get up the energy to be more than mildly interested. Jean (Joel Garner ) his neat-freak, health conscious friend and the others in the café discuss the phenomenon enthusiastically, including the zany Xander Williams as The Logician.

At work the next day Bérengar's co-workers, the skeptical Union man, Botard (Kenton Klassen ), practical Dudard (Alen Dominguez), M. Papillon (Luke Johnson), the boss and Daisy, the secretary (Georgia Beaty), argue about whether the rhinoceros was in fact real. Proof arrives in the person of Mme. Boeuf (Lara Deglan) whose husband, transformed into a rhinoceros, has followed her through the streets. When she recognizes him, she throws herself from the window and rides off on his back, a stellar example of self-sacrificing love.

Worse is to come as first more townsfolk, then Bérengar's acquaintances, then his friends become rhinoceroses.  Finally the precise and precious Jean transforms before Bérengar's horrified eyes, via an antic physical and vocal workout, into a hoarse, man-hating, vicious animal. Joel Garner was priceless.

Also excellent are Alen Dominguez as the sensible Dudard who makes a coolly detached decision to become a rhinoceros and Georgia Beaty's Daisy, a wonderfully comic mixture of secretarial sense and soulfulness. Nevertheless she is affecting and pathetic as she too succumbs to rhinoceritis.

But the real transformation is in Bérengar. The rest remain what they always were, only their human shell changed. Bérengar moves from being out-of-step and disengaged to being a man comfortable in his own skin, willing and able to confront the hide-bound. Matt Reznek's performance was patient and subtle.

The Telus Theatre itself was transformed into a theatre-in-the-round with central raised platform where the human action took place. The rhinoceroses moved through the audience, gradually increasing in number until they seemed to be everywhere in the seating space from the floor to the upper tiers.  Their costumes were uniformly the same dull design and drab colour which denied any individuality and they prowled with a stylized, military movement which was effectively unnerving.

Mention should also be made of the bright blue bathroom door in Jean's apartment, surreally horizontal on the stage floor. The lighting well supported each scene and the arc of the play's action.  

© 2013 Elizabeth Paterson