STRAWBERRY THEATRE WORKSHOP
STAMPEDES THIS YEAR'S ELECTION WITH IONESCO'S "RHINOCEROS"
Absurdist play runs Sep 8-Oct 8
at 12th Ave Arts
Increase the community conversation: tickets for
Rhinoceros are cheaper with volume discounts. Buy four tickets and the 4th is free... see Brown Paper Tickets for more information.
There is a ferocious rhinoceros on the loose in a small village, and no one seems alarmed. In fact, by the time Eugène Ionesco's cast of citizens can agree on what they saw, it becomes possible for individuals to join the herd. Imagine a business leader, a prominent family, and a politician stampeding as wild rhinoceroses, while a town idly debates whether it is even possible…
Strawberry Theatre Workshop had been seeking to open 2016/17 with a theatrical conversation linked to the contemporary US Presidential Election. They found it in a French absurdist drama written in 1959. Directed by Jess K Smith (We Remain Prepared for ArtBarn/Satori Group), Rhinoceros will play Sep-8 through Oct-8 in the Mainstage at 12th Ave Arts. The company imagines a fall evening more politically relevant than the Trump/Clinton debates which will be happening almost simultaneously.
Carol Louise Thompson is cast as Bérenger, who gets advice about social conformity from Jean (Shawn Belyea) shortly before the latter transforms into a pachyderm before her eyes. Seeking sanity and refuge, Bérenger corners Daisy (Amy Mayes) in a love-triangle with one of the few remaining human beings, Dudard (Conner Neddersen). Gazing from a window on a street full of rhinoceroses—perhaps, like the view from the press box of the Republican National Convention—Daisy says:
"Those are the real people. They look happy. They are content to be what they are. They don't look insane. They look very natural."
In Rhinoceros, Ionesco portrays a stampede-like movement that appeals mostly for its forward thrust. Energy comes first, ideas (rationalizations, mostly) come later. Speaking of his experiences in Romania in the late 1930s, Ionesco said:
"From time to time, one of the group would come out and say 'I don't agree at all with them, to be sure, but on certain points, I must admit, for example the Jews...' And that kind of comment was a symptom. Three weeks later, that person would become a Nazi. He was caught in a mechanism, he accepted everything, he becomes a rhinoceros. Towards the end, it was only three or four of us who resisted."
The parallel to the current decade extends further than the aggressive style of modern political campaigns. Has Pokémon Go not led its players to temporarily abandon human awareness under a tide of mass activity? American passions routinely bounce between one rush of attention and another. For every genuine Seahawks or Game of Thrones fan, there is somebody else watching just in fear of being left out.
It is not a stretch to revisit Ionesco's ideas in a modern context. Casting a woman as Bérenger (a role written for man, and played by both Laurence Olivier and Benedict Cumberbatch) is part of Strawshop's effort to make the character more modern. Her gender—and the lifestyle choices she presents Daisy at the end of the play—expand on Ionesco's argument about what society deems natural and normal.
Thompson and Mayes are new to Strawshop, whereas Belyea (The Birds) and Neddersen (9 Circles) were prominently featured in the recently completed season. The rest of the ensemble includes Lacy Katherine Carpenter, Brandon Felker, Jéhan Òsanyìn, Shanna Allman, David S Klein, and John Wray. The production team includes Erin Bednarz (Sound), Ryan Dunn (Lighting), and Greg Carter (Scenery). The production is stage managed by Catherine Blake Smith.
12th Ave Arts
Sep-8 to Oct-8, 2016
Thu-Fri-Sat 7:30pm, Mon 7:30pm
no performance Mon Sep-12
written by Eugène Ionesco (1959)
directed by Jess K Smith
Carol Louise Thompson
Lacy Katherine Campbell
David S Klein
designed and constructed by
stage managed by
Catherine Blake Smith
Graphic Design by Melanie Wang