Get Cultured — April 23, 2015 at 11:20 am

“Rhinoceros” Has Been Set Loose in the LES

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Eugene Ionesco is one of those writers that in the 50’s and 60’s elevated the theater of the absurd to the mainstream (or as mainstream as it got) with the likes of Albee, Genet, and Beckett. “Rhinoceros,” a play about a small town in France that sees its inhabitants turn into wild animals, is his most known work and for good reason. His commentary about social conformity, philosophical approach to mass acceptance, and unique take on morality are tackled with such bravado that it still serves as the perfect mirror for the bandwagon culture we live in today. Now, The Onomatopoeia Theatre Company has decided to stage this play with the same fearless spirit in which Ionesco wrote it at the Gene Frankel Theater, but do they succeed in bringing such an important work into modern stages? The answers is ¾  yes, and a very disappointing ¼ no.

The production itself feels like the work of a director completely confident of his skills, almost to a fault. His handprint can be seen in every move the actors commit to, every transition, every line. This provides both a strong base for the actors to develop their performance, and a progressional staleness provided by the limitedness of this approach. Thankfully for director Thomas R. Gordon, he has a cast more willing to accept this challenge in full force.

From the first scene, the cast takes over the production, creating charming moments within ridiculous situations. The actors find freedom in the tightening grip, and lift our interest and our moods. Laughter counters the hardest aspects of the show, and believe me there’s plenty of laughter. Alex Levitt starts the show with such energy, that it infects the others. His performance along Clinton Powell and Zoe V. Speas’ are the standouts in what was a very entertaining ensembled work. The scenic design by Zachary A. Serafin is another aspect that needs to be talked about. Simple and effective, yet full of ideas coming to life, the set is one of the major reasons we believe in this world. By the time we see the first rhinoceros transformation, everything has clicked in one perfect melody. And then the last ¼ of the play began.

1-Rhino

Before intermission was over, my friend and I were looking forward to coming back. The show wasn’t perfect, but it was surely enjoyable and well done. I was ready to give it a glowing review! But then, everything that had been working through the whole show seem to be bursting through the seams. Everything started becoming too much. At first I thought it was on purpose, a way to encapsulate the desperation of living in a society that celebrates the hive mentality over individualism. But then I started noticing the actors seemed worn out, the light and puppet show that was such a hit at first had overstayed its welcome, and the sound… Listening to a rhinoceros moan as Adam G. Brooks and Charlotte Vaughn Raines are trying to bring the play to its climax was painful. It took me out of the whole show, the audience seemed restless because of it. And because of this happening, the whole two and a half  hours of the show went plunging down. The actors seemed less comfortable as the play went on, and it showed in the last scene, even though Speas really brings it at the beginning of it. It exposed the weaknesses that had been there from the beginning. By the time Brooks gives us his last stance, I was no longer interested in what he had to say… sadly.

“Rhinoceros” will be playing at the Gene Frankel Theater (24 Bond St., New York, NY) until Saturday. You only have a few more chances to watch one of the most seminal works of the 20th century on stage. The script is as important today as it was in 1959, this production might crumble by the end, but it is a very entertaining journey to that point. And at the end an important one to take with you home.

My rating for this play is:

two-and-a-half-stars

 

Twisted Talk: Have you seen a rendition of Rhinoceros before? What about any Onomatapoia Theater Company shows? Discuss below! 

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