BWW Review: The One Note Play Deflates This RHINOCEROS
The power of communication lies in more than language itself. Objectives, tone, volume, intonation, body language, tactics; all of these are of equal importance to lucidity. When these tools are effectively utilized, understanding words even in a foreign language is fairly easy. That is what makes New Yiddish Rep's production of Eugéne Ionesco's RHINOCEROS so heartbreaking.
Moshe Yassur's direction is bold and intelligent. Eli Rosen's translation is clear. Susannah Norris-Lindsay's costumes are simple and effective. The set is utilitarian and uncluttered. Unfortunately most of the performances are delivered in one mode: whiny, angsty, and loud. Even a tragic farce about people abandoning their humanity to transform into cantankerous rhinos requires a level of finesse or negotiation of words, but the lack of range exhibited at this performance rendered legitimate outrage equal to minor discomfort.
As the play's prime character - Berenger - Luzer Twersky spent the bulk of his time mugging at maximum volume regardless of what was happening around him. While Berenger is never going to be anyone's idea of an agreeable character, this one-note reading made it impossible to understand a thing he was saying, even with super-titles translating his speech. The production is performed in Yiddish with Rosen's translation projected in English, not that it made much difference. The musicality of language and nuances found in measuring a breakdown between insanity and reality were missing. Despite that, the illustration of the play's themes on isolation and individualism versus mob mentality was clear. Yassur understands this work. The production's key note phrases and images - "fake news", scenes of mass hysteria, and the image of Sean Griffin's deterioration into a goose stepping seig heil saluting Dudard - transcend mere topicality. More than sensational gimmickry, these motions painted a solid portrait of what happens when society willingly deserts higher standards because it is easier. A question that one mob scene evoked was, "What if a zombie apocalypse struck?" Would most people sacrifice their humanity or would they resist? According to this production, Berenger would be the sole survivor of mankind.
The actors who delivered excellent showpieces were Gera Sandler as an uber specific and dictatorial boss, Caraid O'Brien as a hysterical wife who is the first to willingly embrace "rhinoceritos", and Malky Goldman as Daisy, the woman who loves Berenger. While it was difficult to understand why a woman as beautiful as Ms. Goldman would fall for someone as morose as Berenger, the sincerity of her ardor and quick shifts between emotions were never in doubt. In fact, it was through her that one of the most important points of the final act rang out: If you had to spend your final days as the last woman on earth with a dimwitted jerk, wouldn't you also embrace inhumanity? Ionesco says yes.
New Yiddish Rep continues its production of RHINOCEROS at The Castillo Theatre through October 8th, 2017. For more information, visit: newyiddishrep.org
Photo Credit: Pedro Hernandez