BWW Review: A Thrilling Ride On A Well-Mounted RHINOCEROS
RHINOCEROS/by Eugene Ionesco/directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos/Pacific Resident Theatre/thru September 10, 2017
Director Guillermo Cienfuegos expertly guides his talented RHINOCEROS cast with tight, sturdy reins in a truly full-length play (three acts, spanning close to three hours) now at the Pacific Resident Theatre. Eugene Ionesco originally wrote RHINOCEROS in 1959 as his commentary on the state of the political atmosphere then. So, ironically funny (and sad) that various lines of dialogue throughout Ionesco's comedy resonate in its timely relevance today. Ionesco's "theater of the absurd" classic comes off more realistic than absurd - except for the presence of rhinos, that is. Think sci-fi, horror flick.
Curtain rises on an outdoor café in a quaint provincial French town thoroughfare. (Kudos to set designer David Mauer). All the townsfolk enter and interact in their everyday goings-on. Jean arrives to the café to meet his friend Berenger. Alex Fernandez oozes the oily self-absorbness of Jean, a prim, preening fussbucket. A fast-talker with a high opinion of himself, Jean reprimands Berenger on his sloppy attire, his drinking, his everything. Makes one wonder why Berenger would be friends with such an overbearing, condescending bully. Keith Stevenson commands the stage as Berenger, the slacking copy editor, the empathetic Everyman who's guilty of every accusation Jean makes. Stevenson as the unassuming Berenger more than holds his own against the bombastic rantings of Fernandez' Jean. Stevenson's yin to Fernandez' yang. Berenger's Robin to Jean's Batman. These two work well off each other.
During this aborted meal, the unseen rhinos' presence reveal themselves via the ominous sound effects (of sound designer Chris Moscatiello) from the back of the house. Then... the townsfolks' panicked reactions of the still unseen rhino's charging - a well-choreographed chaos of confusion and fright. In the midst of all this, Melissa Weber Bales manages to take center stage as the snotty "The Housewife," always carrying her pet cat Pussy in her arms. So wonderful how Bales' basic manipulation of the stuffed feline's head can give it such life. Simple puppetry that charmingly works. And then, Bales' reaction to Pussy's demise - priceless!
Second act's set in the publications office where Berenger works. (More kudos to set designer Mauer!) This act prominently features Ionesco's commentary on journalistic reporting. What's observations vs. opinions vs. facts. Most realistic scene of the three acts (until an off-stage rhino wreaks havoc on the workplace).
The gifted performers portraying Berenger's co-workers comprise of: Jeff Lorch proper as the up-right, responsible Dudard; Carole Weyers, so lovely as the femme fatale Daisy, the object of Berenger and Dudard's affections; Brad Greenquist tough as their demanding boss Mr. Papillon; Peter Elbling so acerbic as the cynical Botard. Sarah Brooke wonderfully frantic as Mrs. Beouf as she comes into the office with her husband's written excuse for missing work. Brooke hysterically loses it as her Mrs. Beouf's soon watching her husband off-stage morph into a rhinoceros.
Berenger then goes to Jean's apartment to apologize for their spat the previous day, only to find Jean a bit under the weather. Seems Jean's caught a touch of rhinoceritis. Fernandez' expert use of his body language and vocal modulations combined with his sharp comic timing create a most involving transformation of his human Jean into a rhinoceros. Too cool!
Others of this large abled cast include: Robert Lesser as three distinctly different characters - "The Grocer," "The Fireman," and "The Other Jean;" Sarah Zinsser as the proud "Grocer's Wife" and the teasing "The Other Jean's Wife;" Kendrah McKay as the spunky "The Waitress" and the enthusiastic "The Porter;" and Melinda West as "The Busker" providing her melodious accordion music.
Props to all the tech designers; the aforementioned Moscatiello and Mauer, Justin Preston for his lighting, Christine Cover Ferro for her appropriate period costumes, choreographer Myrna Gawryn for Berenger and Daisy's fetching waltz, and prop designer Dan Cole for his not-too-scary rhino heads.
Third act could use some judicious editing, but don't think the playwright can make the changes.