Review: ‘Rhinoceros’ probes herd mentality

Baylor Theatre Arts’ production of “Rhinoceros,” directed by Chad Kennedy, will show Tuesday through Saturday in the Jones Theatre of the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center. Mireya Sol Ruiz | Multimedia Journalist

By Preston Gossett | Reporter

The play “Rhinoceros” is an interesting tale exploring herd mentality and what it means to be comfortable in your own skin. The production provides a much-needed escape from reality and further impresses with the relatability the actors and set provides with a very modern mid-century aesthetic.

Baylor Theatre will perform the play “Rhinoceros” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Jones Theatre.

“Rhinoceros” tells a story of a French town plagued by rhinoceroses, but these are no ordinary animals. They are townspeople plagued by “rhinoceritis.”

One thing the production does outstandingly well, under the direction of Chad Kennedy, is the actors’ portrayal and transformation from man into rhinoceroses, with the help of costume effects.

Two performers stood out to me: Boerme sophomore Shane Cearnal (Jean) and Fullerton, Calif., junior Joshua Bates (Berenger).

Berenger’s transformation is truly the focal point of the play. Jean continually encourages Berenger to not surrender to life’s pressures, and after Act One, Berenger maintains a sense of responsibility and guilt for the various rhinoceros-metamorphosis happening around him.

What causes Berenger to remain relatively unfazed physically while his close friends and neighbors change, is his unwillingness to give in to crowd mentality; however, he possesses no willpower as he frequently relies on alcohol and daydreaming to cope with the days.

Bates does an outstanding job of bringing Berenger to life and captivating his audience until the very end. At first, he seemed relatively unimportant, but Act Two brought about a whole new side of his character I didn’t know I had been waiting for.

Cearnal’s performance as Jean was impressive from the very beginning, but I really appreciated his passion and dedication when it became apparent in his transformation scene. Jean is the type of character that appears to have it all figured out and blends in with the crowd. Jean is the only character who the audience witnesses transform, and I don’t think it could have been executed as well if it had not been by Cearnal. The emotion and body language made this a very memorable and riveting scene.

At times a bit confusing and all over the place, mainly in Act One, the passion and lighting, as well as sound effects and the ending scene specifically, make this production a must-see.

Some of the actors, it seems, have fallen prey to the type-cast in Baylor Theatre and tend to deliver speeches and monologues with the same diction and tone in every production. While they still do a great job of bringing their roles to life, it’s hard for me to see past certain characters they have played before.

Another note-worthy performance is by supporting character Botard, played by Fort Hood senior Kristopher Coker-Burrell. Botard is what you would call the conspiracy-theorist of the group. He doesn’t trust eyewitness accounts. He doesn’t trust the evidence, and he certainly doesn’t trust journalists. Other than the few comments Botard made about wretched newspapers and untrustworthy journalists, I enjoyed his performance.

One interesting director’s choice I noticed in Act One is an echo effect. Two different scenarios on opposite ends of the stage simultaneously occur wherein each separate group would repeat phrases and sentences to emphasize a certain line or point being made.

The production lasts about two hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission. While a bit long, the jokes and humorous interactions make it not seem nearly as long. The actors clearly put a lot of time and effort into their performances, and I strongly recommended this play to anyone who enjoys a playful performance with an abundance of themes to unpack and explore.

“Rhinoceros” posed an interesting question: How does one retain a visage of individuality in a community of like-minded people?

The ending is both horrifying and eye-opening, and the music and lighting really brought the performance to a screeching halt, with Berenger shouting, “I’m not capitulating!”