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”Rhinoceros“ explores societal themes and problems

| Thursday, September 28, 2017

In the play “Rhinoceros”, members of a small community mysteriously begin turning into rhinoceroses. Originally written by playwright Eugene Ionesco in the 1950s, the play is a social commentary on the rise of fascism and explores identity, conformity and fear.

“Rhinoceros” premieres Thursday at the Debartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) at 7:30 p.m. and will run through Oct. 8. Tickets can be purchased either at the box office in DPAC or on the DPAC website.

Junior Joseph Blakey will play the lead role, individualist Berenger. The play follows Berenger’s plight to remain true to his identity all the while seeing others around him turn into rhinoceroses. What makes Berenger unique, Blakey said, is his refusal to give into group mentality.

Courtesy of Abbey Schnell Cast members rehearse "Rhinoceros", which will be performed at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center from Sept. 28 to Oct. 8. The play deals with anti-fascist themesCourtesy of Abbey Schnell

Cast members rehearse “Rhinoceros”, which will be performed at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center from Sept. 28 to Oct. 8. The play offers commentary on fascism and deals with themes of identity, conformity, and fear.

“He’s not pretending to be someone else,” Blakey said. “He is who he is.”

Junior Joe Crowley will play Jean, Berenger’s close friend. Narcissistic and confrontational, Jean is a character caught in the throes of internal struggle, Crowley said. Crowley said Jean is conflicted about how he wants to define himself in the midst of the changing society.

“That’s eventually what drives him to act as he does and evolve as he does over the course of the show,” Crowley said.

Senior Abbey Schnell, who directed “Rhinoceros,” began her work in February with an in-depth analysis of the script. Schnell emphasized the importance of identifying the “fundamental action of the play”

With this foundation in mind, Schnell said she then concerned herself with the inner workings of the society in which the characters belong, such as how the characters express themselves and interact with others.

“You have to figure out the rules of the world,” Schnell said.

Schnell said her passion for directing came from the stylistic freedom the role affords her.

“I wanted to direct because I love the idea of being able to take an entire play and put my own interpretive spin on it,” Schnell said.

Schnell was in charge of making a number of stylistic choices — overseeing the lighting, stage design, costuming and so on. As director, Schnell said she also had jurisdiction over the setting of the play, choosing to set it in modern day.

Schnell and Blakey said fear was a force driving many characters’ actions throughout “Rhinoceros,” and that the play uses this fear to explain how individuals fall subject to conformity.

Crowley added “Rhinoceros” provides insight into how conflicting social ideologies play out within a community.

“That’s what’s really at the root of ‘Rhinoceros:’ the question of, ‘We live in a pluralistic society, what does that mean?’” Crowley said.

But despite heavy philosophical overtones “Rhinoceros” is not lacking in humor. Instead, Schnell said, the play strikes a balance between offbeat comedy and its more serious themes.

“It’s got the structure of farce. It’s like a normal play with absurdist aspects,” Schnell said. “It’s avant-garde, but it’s kind of … understated.”

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About Mary Steurer

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  • Merde, Rhinoceros cast. Wonderful play. We did it for Reg Bain in 1968 in, I think, O’Laughlin or Washington Hall. I played Berenger, Father John Sheehan played Jean. With Amanda Crabtree, Margo Endres, Jean Paul Mustone, and many others. A production of the combined ND-SMC Cooperative Theater Department. Great memories.