|Eugène Ionesco Drawing by George Chialtis|
by Eugène Ionesco
Translated by Derek Prouse
Directed by Frank Galati
A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, San Francisco
Until June 23, 2019
By Christine Okon
If “fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong,” a whole town turning into rhinoceroses should be no big deal. Unless you’re Berenger, the only man who stands alone against a growing stampede of conformity in Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist classic “Rhinoceros” at A.C.T. until June 23, 2019.
Director Frank Galati has unleashed his Asolo Theatre production in San Francisco where it goes on a rampage of hilarity and surprise. Although the play is said to be inspired by Ionesco’s reaction to how quickly his supposedly intellectual friends embraced Fascism, “Rhinoceros” is a fun circus of puppetry, mime, clowning, vaudeville, and ingenious set and sound design where a huge rhinoceros sits upstage like, well, an elephant in the room and people react with shock, awe, or skepticism as the beasts take over the town.
|Jomar Tagatac, Danny Scheie, David Breitbarth, Rona Figueroa, Teddy Spencer, Trish Mulholland|
Photo: Kevin Berne
Berenger (David Breitbarth) and Gene (Matt DeCaro) are two friends in a somewhat dysfunctional relationship, where Gene berates Berenger for his drinking, slovenliness, and timidity while Berenger tries to keep hold of his sanity and dream of winning over his coworker Daisy (Rona Figueroa). It’s a joy to watch Breitbarth and DeCaro play off each other like practiced vaudevillians or dancers engaged in conversations that go nowhere. Using only his body, expressions, and voice, DeCaro masterfully sculpts the illusion of a man indeed actually turning into a rhinoceros while his loyal friend Berenger reacts like a concerned parent nursing a child with a fever.
|Matt DeCaro and David Breitbarth Photo: Kevin Berne|
The whole town is literally shaken by the onslaught of the strange, powerful creatures, and so is the A.C.T. stage as a rhino trapped in the basement bashes through the floor, howling and bellowing (thanks to Joseph Cerqua’s sound design). When a frantic Mrs. Boeuf (hilarious Trish Mulholland) recognizes her husband-turned-rhino, she reaches out to him and later rides off on a rollicking rump of amazing stagecraft.
|David Breitbarth and Trish Mulholland Photo: Kevin Berne|
Soon everyone is joining Team Rhino, with some gradually changing while others, like Mr. Dudard, played with geeky self-constraint by Teddy Spencer, take a huge leap of faith. And why not join the rhinoceroses? They are singing, having fun, being together. They’re strong and powerful. The only one who us not enticed is Berenger who exclaims “I will never capitulate!” By the end of the play, one wonders whether it’s worth it to stay a Berenger.
|David Breitbarth Photo: Kevin Berne|
Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” ("No, I do not regret anything") is played throughout as a type of theme song, appropriate for someone who’s made a decision one way or the other and resists change.
“Rhinoceros” by Eugene Ionesco, directed by Frank Galati, at A.C.T. Geary Theater, San Francisco, through Sunday, June 23, 2019. Info: act-sf.org
David Breitbarth -- Berenger
Matt DeCaro --Gene
Rona Figueroa -- Daisy
Trish Mulholland -- Mrs. Boeuf
Göran Norquist -- Marcel
Danny Scheie -- Mr. Papillon
Lauren Spencer -- Collette
Teddy Spencer -- Mr. Dudard
Jomar Tagatac -- Mr. Botard
Author -- Eugène Ionesco
Translator -- Derek Prouse
Director -- Frank Galati
Scenic and Costume Designer -- Robert Perdziola
Lighting Designer -- Chris Lundahl
Sound Designer & Original Music -- Joseph Cerqua
Vocal Coach -- Christine Adaire
Movement Coach -- Danyon Davis
Dramaturg -- Joy Meads
The actors and stage managers employed in this production are members of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.