Boot and Buskin’s absurdist “Rhinoceros” opens tonight

Maggie Conley, Staff Writer

Starting tonight in the W. Carroll Coyne Performing Arts Center, Boot and Buskin will be presenting Eugéne Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros.” The show will run for two weekends in the Jesuit Theater.

When one chooses to spend the night at the theater, it’s hard to believe you’ll enter into a world where humans turn into rhinoceroses. But that is essentially the premise of “Rhinoceros,” Boot and Buskin’s fall show. The show takes place in a town in France where people slowly turn into rhinoceroses; by the end of the show, only one human remains.

Director Matt Chiorini said, “It’s a rare play that can jump from ridiculous comedy to nightmare scenarios to thought provoking plot, all with social relevance over two hours.”

Such a combination isn’t typically seen during a night of entertainment. The play, an absurdist drama, was written by French playwright Eugéne Ionesco in 1959.

“I think Ionesco wrote it because of the rise of communism and the Nazis he saw in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, but it’s not a play about that,” Chiorini said. “It’s more about the herd mentality and the attractiveness of it, and what fear can do to large groups of people.”

Senior Jake Ellison portrays the title role of Berenger, a man who must “cope with varying degrees of apathy, cynicism and hysteria of the idea of ‘I will not become a rhinoceros,’” Ellison said. “At the beginning, he is portrayed as a disheveled, drunken and irrational individual, yet comes across as more rational compared to others in the play. He is the one constant in the show, and an unreliable voice of reason.”

Ellison said that while he is still developing his own personal take of the show in his head, from what he and the other actors have discussed in rehearsals, he has made a few connections to past events.

“After 9/11, there was a massive upswelling of American ideals as well as prejudice,” Ellison said. “Everyone became a patriot no matter how apathetic they were before. There was a sudden change of a plethora of ideas to a unity of increased patriotism.” According to Ellison, these ideas can be connected to the show in some way.

Chiorini concluded that the show definitely has something for everyone.

“The show contains different parallels with the past and the present day, whether it’s the London riots, Occupy Wall Street protests, or even the era of post-9/11,” said Chiorini. It is not a show that rallies only ideals correlated with these events, but it is “a play that resists any easy categorization.”

Chiorini added, “It’s not a simple play. There’s not really a message, and everyone can come away with vastly different interpretations and messages.”

“I definitely think there are a number of things people can take away from the show,” Ellison said, “whether it’s an attempt at interpreting what the rhinoceroses are, or simply that the set is stunning to look at.”

The stage set includes four large pieces of scaffolding that the actors will use throughout the play.

“There are 14 people that make up the fantastic ensemble; the ensemble is very intricately involved and talented,” Ellison put humbly.

While this is Ellison’s first lead role in this kind of stage setting, he is very modest about encompassing the title role, admitting to challenges like memorization.

“Playing Berenger is exhausting, mentally and physically; at times the show can feel like a marathon,” Ellison said.

And despite said challenges, Ellison admitted, “It’s flat-out fun. It’s absurdist, funny, poignant and it is such an ensemble show. Everyone is so talented.”

All the hard work he and the rest of the ensemble have put in physically and mentally will likely pay off in the upcoming weeks.

The show opens tonight with a $1 student preview at the PAC in the Jesuit Theater at 8 p.m. The show will then run Oct. 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 for the general public, $10 for seniors and $4 for students and the Le Moyne community. Reservations are not required, but are recommended. For more information, call the PAC office at (315) 445-4523.