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Rhinoceros 

Theater Rhinoceros turns this fable into a frantic, antic farce

Wednesday, Jan 17 2001
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Ionesco's absurdist, anti-totalitarian fable about people turning into unthinking, individualistic rhinoceri has a better reputation than it probably deserves. (It's a pretty obvious conception.) Theater Rhinoceros and director Colman Domingo mount their namesake irreverently, turning it from a cautionary lesson into a frantic, antic farce. Thank god. Setting the play in the Mission District, Domingo transforms lead character Berenger's workplace into a nonprofit with employees of various genders (some indeterminate), all of whom lust after firemen. (Andrew Bayers is the sexy rescuer who satisfies their fantasies.) The rhinos become khakis-and-blue-shirt-wearing dot-commers, with cell phones, Starbucks cups, and eviction notices in hand. The cast has a messy, go-for-broke energy and inventiveness -- they'll do anything for a laugh. Not all of them are good actors, but the comedy carries the audience over the clunkiness. As Berenger, fighting to keep her individuality, Alexis Lezin is a neurotic, comic, booze-swilling, unkempt disaster. She's also undeniably human, charming us completely. Her Berenger gets more and more frenzied, and Lezin is all over the stage, diving for the phone, jumping on the bed, madly gesticulating, and screaming out Ionesco's text crazily. She achieves endless comic effects: throwing a blanket over the bed and hurling a quarter at it to make sure it bounces off, worrying obsessively, writing letters to "Da Mayor." P.A. Cooley is her friend Jean, and Brian Yates Sharber plays both the logician and the flouncy transsexual Botard. Theater Rhino refuses to treat Rhinoceros as a classic, and has a ball with it instead.

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Joe Mader

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