BWW Review: RHINOCEROS at American Conservatory Theatre
Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros is brought boisterously into the Trump era in this hilarious production directed by Frank Galati at A.C.T.'s Geary Theatre. Existentialist themes are explored through absurdity and a great deal of wit-if you've avoided avant-garde theatre in the past, Galati's version is strong enough to make you rethink the genre.
Gene (Matt DeCaro) berates his old friend Bérenger (David Breitbarth) for his heavy drinking before a rhinoceros runs through the center of their small French village. Soon, a quarter of the town has succumbed to the desire to become rhinoceros, dumb to the toils of human life, knowing only destruction and base animal instincts. The last bastion of hope is Bérenger, as he grapples with the choice between falling in line with the pachyderms or facing humanity with all its requisite suffering alone. It could be abstruse stuff, but with a razor-sharp translation by Derek Prouse, these villagers are never allowed to wallow in the maudlin for long. The metaphor for fascism is given a clever update as the townsfolk provide Trumpian excuses for their preposterous behavior.
The entire cast is superb as they confront the ongoing invasion. Breitbarth is a charming and believable protagonist, while DeCaro's transition into a rhinoceros before our eyes is a treat. Jomar Tagatac is very funny as the cynical Mr. Botard who becomes one of the first to fall, and as Mr. Dudard, Teddy Spencer provides Jared Kusher-esque equivocation as he grapples with explaining the rise of rhinocerosism in the town. Rona Figueroa eloquently portrays Daisy, Bérenger's potential love interest who ponders what might have been.
Robert Perdziola's set is beautifully rendered with oil painting drops and some wonderful special effects and surprising reveals, while his costumes exude mid-century French elegance. Movement coach Danyon Davis helps create some exceptional physical comedy. Galati's pacing and tone are both excellent, though an intermission seems unnecessary and stalls the thundering momentum.
As every news day seems more ludicrous than the one before, it's nice to have an opportunity to revel in the foolishness of it all. Rarely does a play make you laugh as much as it makes you question your own existence, but this production manages to do both successfully and is well worth seeing.
Rhinoceros continues through June 23 at A.C.T.'s Geary Theatre, 415 Geary St., San Francisco. Tickets are available at the A.C.T. Box Office at 415.749.2228 or online at www.act-sf.org.