RHINOCEROS, National Pastime Theater. The expression “herd mentality” takes on new meaning in Eugene Ionesco’s 1959 cautionary tale: humans turning into rhinoceroses was no more outlandish to him than Germans mutating into Nazis. In either case, logic, art, even love offer no defense. The embattled Berenger is the last to succumb, clinging to a mirror for one last grasp at a human identity.
Employing Dexter Bullard’s witty 1993 translation for Next Theatre, Laurence Bryan’s ambitious revival is set in Chicago and replaces Nazi pachyderms with corporate zombies in featureless masks and white war paint; the two-horned rhino is symbolized by the mouse-eared Disney logo. The switch is not quite convincing: the takeover Ionesco imagines is much more abrupt than the slow, insidious manipulations of corporate advertising. The look and sound are right, however. This Rhinoceros abounds in stage pictures, including a wry allusion to Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Joey Wade’s sterile white cartoon props contrast with the marvelously menacing sound of the rampaging rhinos, and film and slides juxtapose real rhinos with their human “descendants.”
The acting doesn’t always respect Ionesco’s subtleties. As the blowhard logician, Richard Cotovsky fulminates with the right absurdist abandon, but as the beleaguered Berenger, Dominic Conti offers more convincing pratfalls than panic. Indeed, too many performances here are monotonously strident–Ionesco’s delicate satire gets lost in the shouting.