Rhino is an adaptation of Ionesco’s 1959 absurdist play Rhinoceros, by Aleksandar (Sasha) Lukac and Emilie Varga. Last night I watched its premiere at Theatre Glendon with students in Lukac’s drama class.
It’s much shorter than the original. As I was commenting (oh dear or perhaps pontificating) afterwards, the world is almost unrecognizable 64 years after Ionesco’s play first poked its pointy snout into the world’s consciousness. Absurdism was a thing for awhile, and it took Ionesco much longer to make his point than is necessary now in a world of memes and fake news.
We get that point pretty quickly now, and curiously it’s as pointy and relevant as ever.
We open on a stage that jolted me for a moment, reminding me of the stage picture that confronted the Bayreuth Festival audience for their centennial production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle directed by Patrice Chereau in 1976. No I wasn’t there but I’ve seen that video many times. At the end of Twilight of the Gods, as the world ends, that audience see all the people onstage looking right back into the auditorium, reflecting ourselves back to us.
Similarly as this Rhino begins we’re looking into a theatre with a series of seats populated with people looking back into our own space, exactly like the audience.
They are us, which is perhaps the point.
It doesn’t stop there. We discover they’re in that seated auditorium to watch a new film by Sasha Lukac.
The absurd self-reflective action is especially strong when I look over to see Sasha sitting beside me in the front row. As the action unfolds one of the characters is accused of being Sasha, although it’s delightfully sycophantic, so it’s done in the fake language of flattery. Throughout we’re tasked with decoding the layers. Is it real or fake, authentic or artificial? It’s a lot like life in 2023, when the world has become so bizarre we don’t know what to believe anymore.
And from time to time the “reality” of the rhinoceros transformation of the storyline bursts into the space, both as projections onto the scrim separating us from our mirror images (and yes there is even a doppelganger for me, the loudmouthed reviewer pontificating endlessly) and eventually….
But I don’t want to spoil it.
Sasha explained to me that Emilie Varga –who co-wrote the adaptation – is responsible for the self-reflexive parts about “Sasha Lukac, the brilliant film director”, a worthwhile addition.
Rony Ojha is editor of the video content jarring us from time to time, created by a team of contributors. For these moments we’ve truly left Ionesco and the 1950s behind and are firmly in the 2020s.
From time to time I laughed very loudly, although sometimes it’s a bit pained, especially in the recognition of the familiarity of what we’re seeing, so close to home.
Student theatre can be a revelation, unhindered by the pressure to be commercial or popular, as the participants passionately pour all their energy into the performance. I’d rather not name names except to say that they’re very good, an absurd slice of theatre life.
There are two more performances Friday & Saturday March 10 & 11. The shows start at 7 p.m. Click link to get tickets. Suggested donation $10.00.