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Jo Tomalin

Ionesco’s Rhinocéros: Physical Theatre

By September 28, 2012November 15th, 2012No Comments

Cast of Rhinocéros
(Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)

Opening night of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist metaphoric play “Rhinocéros” on September 27th at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall for Cal Performances was an intense evening of theatre, inventively directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota.

Demarcy-Mota brings this boldly staged production on its debut tour of three US cities – Los Angeles, Berkeley and Ann Arbor, which originated in Paris at the illustrious Théâtre de la Ville.

Ionesco’s play foreshadows fascism and conformity in Europe and this production is a vibrant physically acted philosophical debate of the consequences.

The play takes place in a small village in France on a Sunday morning when a villager turns into a rhinoceros without warning – followed by others. Whether one knows the background of the author’s intent or not when watching it, the audience experiences something very powerful by the end of this one hour forty five minute production, in French with English supertitles and no intermission.

Serge Maggiani plays Berenger, the everyman character of the story. He is inebriated for the first part of the play, hapless, workshy and seemingly unaffected by the effects of conforming to the crowd. As the play progresses, he shows his human emotions and is endearing as the audience empathizes with his situation. Maggiani’s Berenger gets under your skin slowly and brilliantly – his last speech at the end of the play is riveting.

Hugues Quester as Berenger’s friend, Jean is outstanding in his tour de force scene with Maggiani, which is one of the most poignant moments of the play. The cast of thirteen actors features Valérie Dashwood as Daisy, Philippe Demarle as Dudard, and Gérald Maillet as The Logician.

Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)

Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)


Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)

Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernande



Demarcy-Mota directed his cast to develop and incorporate physical theatre choices such as the contrast between the physical fluidity of Berenger and the slow movement of background characters or sharper movement and gestures of some of the villagers as they fervently discuss logic…

…choreographed sways and twists of the ensemble across the stage…

…chairs held exaggeratedly high in the air to protect themselves; the unison outstretched physical reactions of the ensemble in the office (see top photo), and the wonderfully illogical yet metaphorically appropriate stylized movement in the scene when suspended office workers are cleverly entangled and connected to each other’s arms and legs to avoid falling – or worse.

Cast of Rhinocéros (Photo Credit: Jean Louis Fernandez)

Superb artistic design from the creative team supports the director’s fresh look vision resulting in a unified strength and completeness.

Set and Lighting Design by Yves Collet was dramatic, moody and kept surprising the audience when what seemed like a simple set of a bar suggested by twenty chairs and several background panels transformed to reveal a building of sterile flats which also became an office on the upper level. These slick visual changes provided points of rhythm change for the play as the story unfolded – and the stakes increased.

Music by Jefferson Lembeye ranged from wonderfully disturbing violin and cello sounds, ominous  pressure-like pulsations, sharp electric sounds – to the earth-shaking rumbling of a rhinoceros.

Corinne Baudelot’s costumes for the ensemble became more stylized as the physical theatre style developed in the office scenes, where everyone wore black suits, white shirts and red ties. Jean’s black leather coat for his transformation scene was an eerie and inspired choice.

This is a first class production and is well worth seeing.

Rhinocéros plays at Zellerbach Hall, Cal Performances – September 27th to 29th 2012.

For more information and tickets:
Cal Performances, Berkeley

Théâtre de la Ville, Paris

Jo Tomalin Ph.D.
Critics World