Eugene Ionesco's 1958 play Rhinoceros can always be a dangerous undertaking. The balance of emotion and social comment is a tenuous one, and the unique nature of the production and its characters requires a director and actors who are capable of making the play really come alive for the audience. It is unfortunate that InterArt Group's new production of the play at the Midtown International Theatre Festival does not accomplish that.
If you are unfamiliar with the play, the story can be summed up easily: A man named Berenger (played here by Fabio Cardoso) discovers that people all around him are turning into rhinoceroses. Of course, the true meaning of the play stretches far deeper, dealing with the group instinct, and what the effect of one person can be on a group, and vice versa. From Nazi Germany to modern day political maneuvering and beyond, the lessons of Rhinoceros can be interpreted any number of successful ways.
Such was not exactly the case here, however. While Ionesco's play is sharp and full of insight, this production did little to truly accentuate it. Perhaps most at fault is Cosmin Chivu's direction, which lacks the focus needed to really pinpoint the characters for both the audiences and the actors. Chivu moves the actors well and creates many interesting stage pictures, but that seldom proves to be enough, as the characters are seldom capable of making enough of an impact on us for the final scenes to be effective. Chivu is not aided by the bizarre modern choreography of Winona Sorensen, which would seem more at home in a music video than this play, though Dena Verdesca's costumes and Hideaki Tsutsui's lighting do make positive contributions.
The actors also fail to make much of an impression. Cardoso, in the play's largest and most significant role, stays at one level throughout, which makes caring for his struggle difficult. Jennifer Malloy, who plays Daisy, with whom Cardoso shares most of the scenes at the play's end, also seems lost by some of the play's social statements. Kevin McKelvy handles the physical requirements of his role as Jean, Berenger's friend, well, especially in one of his later scenes, but his earlier characterizations - as do those of most of the others in the cast - leave much to be desired.
Rhinoceros is a play where many things can easily go wrong, and in the InterArt production, they all too often do. The company's ambition, and the significant energy possessed by the cast are great assets, but not quite enough to help this production stand out in the herd.