Running of the Rhinos at Asolo Repertory Theatre



Opening this past Friday, Asolo Repertory Theatre brings an absurdist classic to the stage with Rhinoceros. The story follows an ordinary man named Berenger, who enjoys his ordinary life and ordinary job until the extraordinary happens and his fellow townspeople begin suddenly transforming into rhinoceroses. Written by Eugene Ionesco in the wake of World War II as commentary on conformity and personal integrity, two-time Tony Award-winner Frank Galati brings his own adaptation to the Asolo stage.

Though written near 60 years ago, the production retains its resonance in the modern day, says actor Laura Rook, who plays Daisy in the Asolo production. “There’s a timelessness because it’s so abstract,” she says, likening the play to an abstract painting. Whereas something figurative tends to anchor the observer in a time and place, an abstract experience allows for the artwork to float unstuck in time, endlessly interpreted by audience after audience. In this way, Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, through its non-literal exploration of the social mechanics and philosophical conundrums creating tension between conformity and individuality, speaks to audiences and issues today as it did in a world recovering from WWII.

But, and as further evidence of Ionesco’s genius, according to Rook, the play remains an absolute delight, even when commenting on the rise of fascism. “It’s almost a farce,” she says, “because it’s so absurd.” Full of quick wit (streamlined and focused by Galati’s sharp editing, she says.) and masterful physical comedy, the play never dulls or dips, instead powering through one sequence after another like a rhino at full charge. And prepare to be shocked at how the cast and crew have brought the rhinos to life, says Rook, though the details remain a surprise for ticketholders.

Part of the trick, says Rook, in tackling such serious subject matter yet keeping the atmosphere open and enjoyable, lies in Ionesco’s keen avoidance of casting blame. “He doesn’t take one side,” says Rook. “He’s interested in asking the question.” By not insisting on the answer, Ionesco avoids being preachy and creating easy villains, simultaneously creating a more inviting environment for discussion. “I hope it invokes conversation about what we are capable of as human beings,” says Rook.

Currently onstage at Asolo Repertory Theatre, Rhinoceros runs through April 14.

Pictured: Laura Rook, David Breitbarth and Matt Mueller in Asolo Rep’s production of “Rhinoceros.” Photo by Cliff Roles.

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