On Theater: OCC's 'Rhinoceros' has rough edges

Intellectual farce, thrust toward the audience at full volume, has permeated the stage of the Drama Lab Theatre at Orange Coast College.

Eugene Ionesco's absurdist, allegorical comedy "Rhinoceros" is being given a rare revival under the imaginative direction of Rick Golson, with an enthusiastic cast and the technical acumen of David Scaglione, who designed both the multi-functional setting and the rhino makeup, which nearly every cast member eventually adopts.

Ionesco wrote "Rhinoceros" in the late 1950s, addressing the gullibility of the European public to the rise of nazism and, later, communism. There also are elements of another, more familiar, work from the Fifties — the sci-fi movie classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

For the OCC version, director Golson has fast-forwarded the plot to present-day America with local references arising on occasion. The dialogue (some might say "diatribe") is pure Ionesco, however, and it often hinders the pace of the production, such as the repeated discussions regarding the number of horns on an Asian or African rhino.

The play's hero, Berenger (Roy Davis), finds himself the odd man out when everyone around him appears to be transforming into a rhinoceros (dark makeup and a token horn accomplishing this feat). Weighty dialogue abounds, some of it quite laughable (this is, after all, absurdist theater), and Davis projects his "normalcy" effectively.

While Berenger is content to continue his laid-back existence, others rant and rave with alacrity, ultimately succumbing to this treacherous new trend. Some impressive performances emerge, notably that of Devon Suraco as his upscale and ultra-critical friend John, who hits the mark both as a smug patrician and a panicked paranoiac.

Isabella Chavez electrifies as a woman in a state of panic who's just lost her husband to the horned beasts. Jose Hernandez also scores as a rather animated disbeliever, while Julia Zhu commands the stage in her brief cameo as a distraught woman whose dog has been crushed by the intruders.

In a scene reminiscent of the climax in "Body Snatchers," Davis and his late-blooming love interest (a rather bland Hannah Jarvis) huddle in his apartment as the menacing rhinos tromp past (in and out of the audience). Their somewhat pedestrian dialogue underplays the encroaching peril while Abel Diaz as their perplexed friend fitfully saws the air with his arms.

The play's farcical flavor requires egregious overplaying, best accomplished individually by Ethan Hart as Berenger's demanding employer and Frank Myhero as a stuffy logician, as well as collectively by the OCC ensemble in full rhino regalia stomping in and out of the action.

Ideally suited for collegiate presentation as an acting exercise in the study of absurdist theater, "Rhinoceros" touches on the current risk of becoming caught up in popular movements. It's a life lesson administered with shrill emphasis at Orange Coast College.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Rhinoceros"

Where: Drama Lab Theatre, 2701 Fairview Road, Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa

When: Closing performances 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $8 to $12

Information: (714) 432-5880 or http://www.orangecoastcollege.edu

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