If nothing else, the Walkerville Centre for the Creative Arts (WCCA) production of Eugene Ionesco’s absurd comedy of a Rhinoceros apocalypse is a must see if only for its spectacular ending. Although getting to the end is a journey with both intelligent humour and moving pathos.
Things start off innocently and playful enough with the cast’s mechanical walk-ons – reminiscent of Monty Python’s Silly Walks – as the audience is taken inside a café in a small French town.
Suddenly the members of the town’s café society are alarmed when they spot a rhinoceros. This ignites ludicrous debate about whether two horns or one make a rhino Asian or African or vice versa. One can only imagine the joy Ionesco himself must have had in plotting out these arguments. What is better is the way the seventeen Walkerville High students not only bring his words to life but also flawlessly execute the nuances of his presentation.
Most notable is an Act One dual discussion in which the same words are used by two pairs of conversationalists. One is discussing a weighty topic, the other the paws of cats.
For some unknown reason, cats are the undertow of the Act. Director Jeff Marontate, in a conversation with Eyes on Windsor, supposes it simply reflects the times. Ionesco wrote the play in 1959 when felines seemed to have a higher profile. It was also a time at which the wounds of the Second World War were still relatively fresh resulting in an allegorical play, as absurd as it is, with a message in which Ionesco puts mass psychology, the underlying success of Nazism and fascism, under his microscope.
Despite whether it is Asian or African rhinos, it isn’t long before all residents of the sleepy town become their own distinct rhinoceros. It is here the audience is treated to the brilliant acting of Seamus Tokol whose own transition starts with a bump just above his nose. Tokol played with distinction the role of Caractacus Potts in WCCA’s recent production of Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.
Another member of that cast, Spencer Pearson, takes on the pivotal role in Rhinceros as protagonist Berenger and impresses with an incredible range of acting and a polished, frenzied ability to run hither, tither and yon around the stage. It is a pleasure just to watch, and he never misses a beat.
However, when the dust settles, he alone is the last human standing, but, before that happens, there is love. He and the statuesque Daisy, played with accurate abandon when needed by Tatum Roy, share a passionate embrace but it all comes apart when Berenger plots out a future in which they will repopulate the earth. She decides she wants no part of such a task, reasoning that having children is a bore.
All of this ends with with one of the most fascinating final moments of any play locally in quite some time, somewhat reflective of a script from the Walking Dead. Berenger is surrounded by Rhinos but he tells them he will not capitulate.
The actors each took pride in creating their own masks which were designed by famed Canadian stage designer Deb Erb. Having the full cast stomp around the stage in an almost zombie like trance reinforces Ionesco’s views on mass psychology and brings the play to a conclusion that is not to be missed.
As an aside, Ionesco was also somewhat prescient. His play, despite being written almost six decades ago, is highly contemporary, particularly comments by Cavelle Doucette-Lefebvre through his character Botard. In the age of fake news, he has no truck with journalists reporting the sighting of rhinos in the town. It is not logical. Of course, that is the whole point of the exercise.
Although the scenery for the play is minimal, Noah Ball, lighting designer, used lighting to create a monolithic backdrop that totally compliments Jeremy Burke’s subtle set design. Stage manager Maja Bogoevski is quite the traffic cop able to have her actors pull off considerable movement without a mishap and for that considerable praise is due.
Additional runs of Rhinoceros will be staged at 7 pm May 9, 10 & 11 and 2 pm on May 5 at Walkerville Collegiate, 2100 Richmond St. Windsor, ON.
Article by Robert Tuomi
For over a decade, Robert has covered local news and community events. Initially as a contributor to CBC Radio’s local morning show and then as the long-time producer and host of CJAM’s The Rest of the News and as a journalist at the Windsor Square. A graduate of the Nikon School of Photography he enjoys illustrating his reports with what he sees through his camera’s lens.