by Eugène Ionesco

Translated by Derek Prouse


Directed by Frank Galati


A.C.T.’s Geary Theater

May 29–June 23, 2019

Reviewed by Kedar K. Adour, MD


Rhinoceros runs rampant at A.C.T.


Avant-garde absurdist Eugene Ionesco wrote the seminal satire Rhinoceros in 1959 but the time is anchored in a small French town pre-WWII when fascism was reaching its zenith. He dissects that meteoric rise of the isms morphing into mass culture becoming all-consuming and we as individuals should guard against it. The analogy to the present status is tenuous but still is cogent.  We need a hero (if you can call him that) similar to Ionesco’s everyman Berenger who after 90 minutes including the intermission of what was a three act play is the last man standing.


Berenger is not in any sense a hero but an ordinary man caught up by mass hysteria engulfing a small town as individuals “change their skins” joining the masses becoming rhinos. It starts in a quiet café where conformist Eugene (Matt Decaro) is chastising easy going Berenger’s (David Breitbarth) drunkenness and irresponsibility. It is prophetic that he suggests “we return to nature” even if it might lead to law of the jungle.


Into this bucolic town charges a Rhinoceros raging through the village square beginning a collective dialog about if it actually exists and if so what is the meaning. Ionesco injects a concept racial division uniting by making the first rhino a one horned Asian and the second a two horned African.  Disbelief becomes reality when Collette’s (Lauren Spencer) cat is crushed by a rhino goading the townspeople into frenzy with everyone agreeing that rhinos should not be allowed. However the transformation is taking hold.


When the scene shifts to pompous Mr. Papillion’s (Danny Scheie) newspaper office Ionesco rounds out his spokes people with logician Mr. Dudard (Teddy Spencer), Mr. Botard (Jomar Tagatac) a doubting Thomas challenging everything, Daisy (Rona Figueroa) questioning love and Marcel( Goran Norquist) overly educated intellectual who does not become engaged with the upheaval. Lastly there is Mrs. Boeuf (Trish Mulholland) who blindly follows her husband who has made the transformation and triumphantly rides off on his back that is a huge rhino prop.


The second act contains the scene that made Zero Mostel a famed stage name playing the original American version of Eugene as he, in front of the entire audience, morphs into a rhinoceros through physical maneuvers, facial expressions and voice changes. Matt Decaro is mesmerizing in that role baring almost all without the benefit of horns or changing skin color.


Ionesco cleverly loads the play with didactics giving philosophical lines to various members of the cast that are fast and furious in coming sometimes to the detriment of clarity. This truncated translation by Derek Prouse gives seasoned director Frank Galati innumerable opportunity for directorial conceits that include two of Edith Piaf’s signature songs. One being “No I Don’t Regret Anything.”


David Breitbarth  as Berenger has the right amount of vulnerability and strength of purpose to carry the role and even has his share of accolades while Matt Decaro transfixes the audience with his rhino transformation. The beauty in Rona Figuera’s role as Daisy is amplified with her heart wrenching singing that would make Edith Piaff proud. The always professional Danny Scheie underplays his role of Mr. Papillion and this reviewer would have asked the director to stage his rhino transformation that takes place off stage. Jomar Tagatac brings verisimilitude to his role as the always doubting Mr. Botard. Teddy Spencer is given a chance to shine and  does so with his descent into rhinoisms. Thrish Mulholland is a scene stealer as she physically dives through the floor ending up riding the rhino that is her husband.


The creative crew adds greatly to the ambiance to the evening with a marvelous drop curtain set and costumes by Robert Perdziolato with brilliant sound and music design by Joseph Cerqua. The evening earns a solid five stars by bringing Inoseco’s didactism to life even though Eugene suggests that “Humanism is dead and the law of the jungle pervails.”


CAST: Mr. Botard (Jomar Tagatac), Mr. Papillon (Danny Scheie), Berenger (David Breitbarth), Daisy (Rona Figueroa), and Mr. Dudard (Teddy Spencer) look on as Mrs. Boeuf (Trish Mulholland), Göran Norquist, ‘Collette’ (Lauren Spencer), Teddy Spencer.


CREATIVE TEAM: Director Derek Prouse, Robert Perdziola (Set and Costume Designer), Chris Lundahl (Lighting Designer), and Joseph Cerqua (Sound Designer and Original Music)

Daisy (Rona Figueroa) visits Berenger (David Breitbarth) in a dream - Photograph by Kevin Berne

American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.),
415 Geary St.,
San Francisco,
(415) 749-2228