VOL. 25 - NO. 21
MAY 24 - 31, 2020
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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: A.C.T.’s Production of “Rhinoceros” Is Masterful, Outrageous, Amusing

Jun 08, 2019
by Evan Almdale
Eugene Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” currently performing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater (405 Geary Street) in San Francisco through June 23, is an engaging production that offers a little bit of everything, from outrage to defiance, to humor.

The play opens on a Sunday morning in a town square. Berenger (David Breitbarth) enters, with hair uncombed, clothing creased, and visibly tired. He is meeting his friend Gene (Matt DeCaro), who immediately begins reprimanding Berenger for getting drunk and not taking care of himself.

The scene then abruptly breaks into panic as a rhinoceros rampages through the village square, creating both a sense of explosive laughter and nightmare anxiety. People in the square are in a panic and repeatedly scream, smash windows and crush flowerbeds. "Oh, a rhinoceros!" People argue over what they saw. Was it really a rhino?

However, Berenger, facing a desperate choice, sits and appears rather disinterested. He, along Daisy (Rona Figueroa), a girl from the office whom he likes, and Gene, see a rhinoceros again, prompting arguments such as: was it the same rhinoceros, or a different one? Did it have one horn or two? Was it African or Asiatic?

Moving to the second scene at Berenger's workplace, the men are arguing with Daisy, who tells them she saw a rhinoceros. They do not believe her. Berenger enters and says he, too, saw a rhinoceros, but the men think Berenger is only being polite to Daisy.

Mrs. Boeuf (Trish Mulholland) then enters. She has been chased by a rhinoceros and her husband is missing. As it turns out, her husband has turned into a rhinoceros.

In the next scene, Berenger visits Gene to apologize for his behavior that morning. Gene is feeling ill, and upset because he insists he is never ill. Berenger tells him Mr. Boeuf (Jomar Tagatac) has turned into a rhinoceros. At the end of the scene, Gene turns into a rhinoceros.

Dudard (Teddy Spencer) then comes to visit Berenger. Having seen Jean turn into a rhinoceros, Berenger becomes paranoid. Dudard reveals that their boss has also turned into a rhinoceros. When Berenger says what's happening is not natural, Dudard asks, "What can be more natural than a rhinoceros?" When Berenger says it's abnormal, Dudard asks, "Who can be sure where the normal stops and the abnormal begins?"

Then Dudard runs off and becomes a rhinoceros. Berenger and Daisy, it appears, are the only humans left. But Daisy is growing weaker so she, too, runs off.

Now, Berenger is the only human left. He begins to weaken, to want to become a rhinoceros, but he cannot. He eventually has a change of heart, and decides he will fight against them, and not give up, stating "I'm the last man left, and I'm staying that way until the end. I'm not capitulating!"

This comedic story of a civilized community shifting from defiance to compliance is a rather humorous commentary on the absurdity of the human condition made tolerable by self-delusion.

Run time is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Tickets are available by calling 415-749-2228 or visiting www.act-sf.org.

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Photo caption: Berenger (David Breitbarth) looks at Gene (Matt DeCaro) as if he is acting like a strange animal in Eugčne Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros.”


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