Over the past few years, The Théâtre de la Ville’s production of Eugène Ionesco’s “Rhinocéros” has been praised for its intuitive and authentic personation. A famed French playwright and dramatist, Ionesco is considered an iconic figure in modern literature. Alongside artists like Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet, many regard Eugène Ionesco as one of the founders of the Theatre of the Absurd, a movement that emphasized the meaninglessness of life.


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The Théâtre de la Villa’s Paris premiere of “Rhinocéros” in 2004 received popular acclaim, prompting the production to provide international audiences a taste of European theater. This year, the Théâtre de la Ville ensemble brings Ionseco’s emotionally ridden and inspirational play to Ann Arbor audiences as it tours some of America’s top venues.

As the director of the Théâtre, Emmanual Demarcy-Mota approached the stage with his contemporary designs and his ability to elucidate challenging art to audiences. In his interpretation of “Rhinocéros,” Demarcy-Mota is determined to provide U.S. audiences with a classic and theatrical re-staging of the play.

A three-act play, “Rhinocéros” is set in a small French town. The protagonist, Bérenger, is an everyman slacker dependent on alcohol, who lacks interest in his office work as well as the society and culture around him. In Act I, a half-hearted Bérenger witnesses a rhinoceros running through the town square, his fellow citizens are appalled at the sight of the animal. However, despite his degraded persona at the beginning of the play, as the story progresses, Bérenger’s transformation is considered a true metamorphosis.

“He’s an existentialist hero,” says Theater and Drama prof. Martin William Walsh when discussing Bérenger.

According to Professor Walsh, “Rhinocéros” ’s concept is what makes it such a unique piece of theater.

“The play is fairly simple … a very ordinary observation of life,” says Walsh. “(Characters) are almost crushingly boringly normal, low expectations, just wanting to carry out their lives, which makes them susceptible to rhinoceritosis. It represents a particular post-war position, a totalitarian ideology,” Walsh added. “You’re a normal human being and suddenly a rhinoceros passes by and you say, ‘Oh, a rhinoceros!’ but eventually there’s more and more of them passing by and eventually you are turning into one yourself.”

“Rhinocéros” targets the domineering features of social and political ideologies and their powerful grip over ordinary individuals, whose identity and intellect are extracted by these notions. As Ionesco himself stated, “People allow themselves suddenly to be invaded by a new religion, a doctrine, a fanaticism … At such moments we witness a veritable mental mutation.”

The conformity on display throughout the play complements Ionesco’s own personal view and emotional response to the rise of political paradigms such as fascism and totalitarianism before and during World War II. Viewed as one of Ionesco’s finest works, “Rhinocéros” is regarded as an enthralling piece of the Theatre of the Absurd.

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