“Rhinoceros” – University Hall Theatre Brings Ionesco’s Classic Tale of a World Gone Crazy
The Fall 2023 Theatre Arts Production, which aims to transform from realistic to the bizarre, opens November 7.
In contemplating directing Ionesco’s Rhinoceros at the University Hall Theatre, Robert Lublin kept coming back to the same question: “How do you stay sane when the world’s gone bat%&@ crazy?”
“I’ve loved this play for a long time,” said Lublin. “On the surface, it’s a bizarre story of a small town where people – for no discernible reason – start turning into rhinoceros. Trampling, rampaging, destructive rhinos. One character, against fantastic odds, stays sane through that bizarre mayhem.”
“But deeper than that, this is about people’s tendency to ignore the truth, even when it’s about to run them over,” he said. “We can go on living as though nothing is wrong, even when things are terribly, terribly wrong. It’s a unique and powerful look at our susceptibility to radial ideologies and mob mentality. It feels important to spend time thinking about that right now.”
Director Robert Lublin (left) delves into "Rhinoceros" with cast member Daniel Kang and Assistant Stage Manager Nakatto Nassozi as the rehearsal process begins.
Playwright Eugene Ionesco’s “right now” was 1959 in France, when he wrote Rhinoceros as a response to fascism, though careful not to mention the word “Nazi” specifically. At the time, he, like many, was still trying to make sense of how the destructive forces of fascism took such a strong hold of so many. Even after the horrors through World War II, he saw it was somehow still attracting devotees.
“It feels, and I’m hoping the audience feels, that we can still see that destructive force today. It has different names, different personalities, different tactics,” Lublin said. “But it’s no less present. Yes, humans turning into rampaging rhinos is an absurd way to represent that force. But each time I’ve read and seen Rhinoceros, it seems a perfect allegory for something that doesn’t make sense in the real world either.”
“The fun part is we have to create this strange transforming world in an actual theatre, work with actors to make it come to life,“ he said. “We’ll be bringing the audience into a theatre that will look familiar, at first. In showing this story, we’ll change the physical space during the play into something much harder to comprehend,” he said. “The design of this play – sets, costumes, lighting – is about transforming from the realist to the unrealistic. And that’s especially exciting.”
Designing the set is new faculty member Amy Sue Hazel, who designed the set for last semester’s Government Inspector. She was hired as tenure track faculty in Theatre Arts over the summer. The design challenge: Make the visuals of the production change during the play, from realism to cubism, from realistic to the bizarre. And, of course, rhinoceroses.
“Everything about this design is challenging,” Hazel said. “The concept, and how we’re going to achieve it, has a lot to do with the light, and constraints of the theater itself. We’ve had to go through a lot of problem solving, asking ourselves questions to get Robert’s vision of a transitioning space, morphing from one extreme to another, stylistically.”
“Going from realism to cubism is impossible without two completely different sets,” she said. “But conveying that feeling, that transition, we can do. Pieces will move, we get to play with translucent materials and puppets. We’ll see the transformation by creating almost a dance between physical set pieces and intricate lighting.”
The cast includes a number of newcomers to UMass Boston Theatre Arts, as well as actors who’ve been seen in Government Inspector, Working: The Musical, and more. The cast includes: Jes Boyajian, Aidan Butler, Alex Depina, Meg Geslin, Daniel Kang, Aurora Manrique, Dylan Moore, Patrick McDonald, Anna Pumphrey, Scott Ramlal, Jack Roussell, Aram Russell, Sam Stanley, and Sierra Simone Wilcox.
By Eugene Ionesco
Translated by Derek Prouse
Directed by Robert Lublin
November 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 17 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee November 18
University Hall Theatre, University Hall
Tickets: Students, faculty, and staff, $12, General Public $15