Aug. 21, 2017
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Anson Stevens-Bollen

The Rhinoceros in the Room

August 9, 2017, 12:00 am

There is no way around it: Students and alums (not to mention professors or former professors) of the College of Santa Fe and Santa Fe University of Art and Design have been integral to the success of the Santa Fe theater scene. By SFR’s count, every single show put up in the city this year has had at least some involvement from a CSF or SFUAD kid. (Full disclosure: This writer is a proud CSF kid.) Some of these actors and techies have been among the best we’ve seen, even. So what will happen when the campus shuts its doors for good in June of next year?

Well, let’s not talk about that just yet, because this week there is something more relevant and immediate happening on the midtown campus.

Charlotte Jusinski
Elevating the idea of the “class project,” a group of actors from the school’s summer Rehearsal and Performance course have spent the last four weeks rehearsing a production of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. It’s perhaps the best-known example of avant-garde political commentary. But don’t let that classification scare you away; it’s quite funny, and in the hands of the capable upperclassmen of SFUAD, it’s delightfully watchable and accessible. They have worked under the direction of Lindsey Hope Pearlman.

At show open, Jean (Koppany Pusztai) and Berenger (Abygail Merlino—but keep up, four different actors play Berenger, always identifiable by a Hawaiian shirt and aviators) are at a café in a small French town. Everything seems relatively normal until a rhinoceros (seen by the actors, only heard by the audience) charges through the square not once, but twice. There is much discussion over whether the rhino had one or two horns, what species it was, and whether it could have been two rhinos once, or one rhino twice. This is very important, you see—much more important than the fact that there is an actual rhino charging through the town and destroying shit.

It isn’t long before the novice audience member (ie, one who has not studied this play in a university-level post-war drama class) stops trying to follow too closely and simply delights in the strange interactions onstage, like when the Logician (Liam O’Brien) and the Old Gentleman (Audrey Clark) go on for quite a while about how many legs cats might have, or when the Housewife (Lauren Trujillo) shrieks inconsolably over the death of her cat (trampled by the rhino). Don’t worry, though—the Waitress (Lee Manship Vignes, fresh off a stellar turn as the Emcee in the Santa Fe Playhouse’s sold-out run of Cabaret) gives the cat a solemn funeral, complete with dirge.

That’s just a fraction of the action of the first scene. Admirable are these actors, who fly through the script with ease. Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to make natural (or even simply memorize) one nonsensical line as it follows a different nonsensical line.

We’re then brought to the office of a local newspaper, where a rhinoceros swiftly demolishes the only way out, forcing the staff to evacuate via fire brigade; the show closes in Berenger’s apartment as, one by one, his friends and allies turn into rhinoceroses, evoking a zombie apocalypse. What was an amusing anomaly in the first scene becomes a looming archetype by the final moments.

Given that the show was written by a Frenchman in the 1950s, we don’t need to beat you over the head with what the rhinos mean, nor do we need to explain why this show feels uncomfortably familiar in 2017.

SFR posed to these actors that audience members might be intimidated by the show, and we asked for tips that might help new viewers. Merlino, O’Brien, Clark and Vignes provided the following ideas:

Worshipping at the altar of logic and reason isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. (AM)

Ionesco did not write the play as a comedy, but thought instead it was a tragedy. (LO)

Students were were led to this piece by studying a 1981 film called Roar, and discussing the concept of nature over man, before discovering the political subtext in the play. (AC)

Finding who you are or what is important to you when the mass majority is the exact opposite is something that really resonates. (LMV)

There are lots of political parallels, old and current, apparent in this play. … But this is also a ridiculous and absurd story about a bunch of rhinos. Don’t sprain anything getting lost in the thoughts void about it. (AM)

Performances will happen on the Quad, right in the middle of the campus, boxed in by silent dorms, rehearsed in the summer ghost town of the Greer Garson Theatre. Of course, there is the rhinoceros in the room—What will Santa Fe do without these students?—but for now, it may just be easiest to enjoy their production and answer the big questions some other time.



Rhinoceros
6:30 pm Thursday and Friday Aug. 10 and 11. Free.
The Quad, Santa Fe University of Art and Design,
1600 St. Michael’s Drive,
473-6011.


 

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