Student Review: HMTC delivers a powerful, deep rendition of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros


Samuel Keimweiss

Samuel Keimweiss, Staff Writer

A man and a woman sit at a table. They talk to each other and order drinks. Everything seems perfectly fine, but something feels off. Look closer. The man is not a man, but a beast; a rhinoceros.

Such is the nature of director and Theatre Teacher Joseph Timko’s adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s 1959 play Rhinoceros. Performed by the Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC), the play’s intimate, community theater atmosphere aids in understanding the play’s complicated themes.

Rhinoceros consists of three acts and takes place in a small French town. It follows Bérenger, played by four actors–Charlotte Pinney (12), Madhav Menon (10), Jack Crovitz (10), and Jacob Dylan Chin (11)–while his aquaintances turn into rhinoceroses. Bérenger initially believes the creatures are morally acceptable, but by the time he realizes the danger they pose, it is too late and he is the only human left in his town.

While Timko and HMTC followed most of the translated script of Ionesco’s work, they adapted it to fit the small theater and added comedic elements to make the play more engaging. 

Though the actors and director add a humorous tone, they also deal with difficult issues discussed in the text; Rhinoceros was written in response to World War Two and fascism.

While these ideas are inherent in Ionesco’s text, HMTC puts a larger emphasis on themes within the play that are extremely relevant to today’s society, like mental health. In the first act, Bérenger struggles with alcoholism, depression, and a lack of self-confidence, which is successfully conveyed by Pinney’s drawn out, exasperated phrasing. Spencer Kahn (11), playing Bérenger’s friend Jean, responds decisively with aggression and rhythm.

The cast uses the rhythm of the production to address sensitive topics. In one particular stretch of Act Two, Menon’s Bérenger, and his co-workers Daisy (Sarah Accoceli (11)), Botard (Nicholas Moreira (10)), Papillon (Ben Lee (11)), and Dudard (Rish Sinha (11)) debate the possibilities of rhinoceros existing in France. The five actors have bubbling chemistry and are so comfortable debating the merits of logic itself that the scene feels more like a dance than a dialogue. Their back and forth does an exemplary job of showing Botard’s refusal to accept the rhinoceros as well as Dotard’s staunch support backed by no evidence but the word of witnesses.

The set of the play adds to the tension inherent in the script while also alluding to other themes. There are two walls on either side of the stage that close in on the play as it advances, shrinking the stage and creating a growing sense of fear and claustrophobia. The gray, textured backdrop darkens the room and resembles rhinoceros skin. The lights enhance the surrealism of the play and add to the sense of confusion. Overall, the set creates a serious atmosphere for the play and exploits the intimate atmosphere that the Black Box provides.

The play ends on a lighter note. After a passionate closing speech by Chin, the actors do a line dance choreographed by Yana Gitelman (10). The dance adds a fun, laughable conclusion to serious content, ensuring that the each member of the audience leaves with a smile.