Originally an absurdist play by Eugene Ionesco, Rhinoceros tells the story of a French town plagued by rhinoceroses. These are not ordinary rhinoceroses, but people who have been victims of "rhinoceritis." Or is it something else entirely? But, why are they turning into rhinoceroses and what is Ionesco trying to tell us about society? Written by
Jeff Schoner <email@example.com>
The short lived American Film Theater in its few years of existence produced and preserved so many good theatrical works that might never have gotten filmed they deserve the gratitude of all who appreciate the best in plays. One of the best and most interesting preserved work is French playwright Eugene Ionesco's absurdest work, Rhinoceros. It's a very funny work with a strong moral message about individualism.
Ionesco knew a little something about zoology in that he picked of all the creatures in the animal kingdom, the Rhinoceros is the one he chose. Rhinoceros is an animal with a thick hide, a small brain relative to its body, good hearing, great sense of smell, but absolutely limited vision. Their tempers are quick to arouse when they perceive a threat and once charging they're hard creature to stop. It's a good thing they're herbivores, if they were carnivores, they not the lion would be king of the jungle. And they travel in herds, when not in their usual mud habitat, chewing on their cud.
And Rhinos are what people are gradually turning into in this small town which was set in France, but could easily be any small town in the world. They are a great deal more provincial and the chances of finding folks who are individualistic are slimmer. My guess is that Ionesco lived in small towns in his formative years and hated it.
Rhinoceros ran for 240 performances on Broadway in 1961 and starred Zero Mostel and Eli Wallach in the part that Gene Wilder plays in the film. The casting of Wilder was obviously done to exploit the chemistry Mostel and he demonstrated in Mel Brooks's The Producers.
Mostel like in The Producers by dint of his stronger personality tries to get Gene Wilder to change his ways. Wilder is a mousy little man who has a dead end job in a newspaper, can't get to first base with the object of his affection, Karen Black, and likes to drink a little too much more than is good for him.
But while Zero is giving Gene his spiel about straightening out, the first of many Rhinoceros make their appearance outside the café they are lunching at. Gradually one by one the whole cast turns into these creatures, the whole town does except poor Wilder who is left sheepishly alone.
Mostel won a Tony Award for his role in the original Broadway production, but it really is Wilder's film, he definitely has more screen time. Wilder definitely should have gotten more acclaim for what he did in Rhinoceros.
The theater of the absurd is not to everyone's taste, but for those that do appreciate it, this production of Rhinoceros should fill your bill.
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