Article: Studio Theatre opens ‘Rhinoceros’

Absurdist play from Eugène Ionesco adapted for the 21st century

By DONALD BARNES | The South End

The original article may be found here.

Technology as a means to the end of humanity has been told in many stories in movies and books.

Wayne State Ph.D. student Greg Bailey offered another view of that fiction for the stage in the Studio Theatre’s production of Rhinoceros, which premiered Feb. 3.

Originally written by Eugène Ionsco in 1959, Rhinoceros covered the growth of Communism and Nazism during World War II and used the metaphor of humans transforming into rhinos as a way to relay that message.

In Bailey’s version, the transformation is marked by technological advancements and man’s urge to be “up with the times.”

“In the creation of the Nazi party, ordinary Germans went along because they were afraid of being different, afraid of being wrong, afraid of being punished,” Bailey said in an e-mail. “They believed the hateful things said about others.

“There was the creation of a group mindset that was bent on achieving goals that stripped the people of their humanity, no matter which side they were on.”

In this version, there is the uprising of technology instead of Nazism and Bailey feels that in many ways they are parallel. “In the past 15 years or so the human race has changed drastically due to the alarmingly fast rise of technology,” he said. “Technological advances like cell phone, e-mail, video conferencing and social networking are changing traditions and aspects of human civilization that have been in place since the dawn of civilization.”

It has resulted in myriad changes, Bailey said.

“The family unit no longer means what it used to,” he said. “Rather than teams of storm troopers mobbing down the streets, we have millions of teenagers stuck on Facebook and following celebrities on Twitter.

“Something has been lost of our human culture in the process, and that is what we are seeking to take a closer look at in Rhinoceros.

In the play, actors are often seen with laptops and cell phones, giving complete attention to the device they’re holding.

When the first rhinoceros is seen, people run to the windows with camera phones snapping away while the main character Berenger calmly waits for the waiter.

Berenger is a man of old fashion and alcohol; he doesn’t feel the need to keep up with trends.

At work, he uses a typewriter. He’s lazy and always late, but in the end he is the only one who doesn’t transform, because of his love for humanity.

“The moral issue at stake is found in this question: ‘What is the point in standing up for what you believe if you can never change what will be?’” Bailey said.

“The fall of the Nazi party did not defeat hate and anger in human culture. The loss of humanity associated the rise of technology is as inevitable as the hate and anger that remain even in the defeat of fascism. How do we fight? What do we fight? Is holding onto some connection of the old definition of humanity worth fighting for? That’s what we want the audience to leave asking themselves.”

The Studio Theatre’s actors show brilliantly their acting talents through the way they portray Bailey’s message in a serious way. Each character’s lines flow seemingly with the next with posture and hand gestures that accent the material.

“The cast started working on the show two months ago,” Bailey said, “and they have worked hard to get where we are, but I started work on the show in May of last year.

“The process of getting to the opening is always exciting, but the release of pressure found on opening night are incomparable in reenergizing a tired group of artists.”

The actors each used a different approach to relate to their characters in this “absurd” play, Bailey said.

“The situations found in Rhinoceros are intentionally unlike real life, and so it is a challenge for the actors to act truthfully in such extreme circumstances,” he said, “but through our rigorous rehearsal period, they have all begun to explore not only who their characters are in the world of the play, but also why Ionseco wrote them into the show, and how they are essential in completing the story.”

Overall, the play is exciting and dotted with occasional humor. The meaning is powerful, and audiences will leave with an understanding of Bailey’s vision.

“Rhinoceros” will be showing at the First Unitarian Universalist Church at Forest and Cass avenues at 8 p.m. on Feb. 10-12. Tickets are $10-12.


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