IWU’s spring play “Rhinoceros” gets political

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By: Stephanie Vargas, News Editor

The Eugene Ionesco play“Rhinoceros” opened on the Jerome Mirza Theatre stage this week. The play, typically centered around fascism, brought a more relevant political issue to
light: racism.
Visiting Assistant Professor Christopher Connelly directed the play with the hopes of spreading awareness on the rise of racism in our country today.
In his director’s note, he cited numerous statistics indicating the rise of hate crimes and racially fueled aggressions on college campuses.
“I was definitely shocked by all of the parallels between the text and our current political climate,” senior Jamie Kreppein said.
The play itself follows the character Berenger, who struggles to fit into to society because he has dreams and emotions.
Throughout the play people begin turning into Rhinoceroses, which causes uproar in the town.
Despite the occurrences around him, Berenger is able to stay committed to himself and to love. He uses that in order to start a resistance to social conformity and racism.
At the end of the play, the audience is left with the word “Resist” illuminated on a screen on stage.
One actress, sophomore Maya McGowan, took a lot away from being involved in the production.
“As a theatre artist, I enjoy plays that stimulate thought and encourage me to create open dialogue,” McGowan said. “While preparing for Rhinoceros, I was able to engage in conversations about the political climate today and how we could use this knowledge to present a story that reflected our society.”
There was political commentary throughout many facets of the play. A notable one was through the character Gene.
Many people noticed some parallels between Gene and President Trump.
“The Gene character was so obviously Trump,” sophomore Kayla Ranta said. “Everything from his mannerisms to the ‘Make America Great Again’ hat helped show that.”
Members of the production team said that they focused on little details in order to push the concept.
“In my work, we focused on costume,” senior Hannah Sage said. “We, as a costume team, tried our best to make sure that while the characters looked cartoonish, they were influenced by the views
and opinions of the people in power whom we hear from or about nearly daily.”
Details of the play that differed from the original include the orange-tinged skin associated with the characters turning into Rhinoceroses and the setting of Bloomington-Normal.
“I knew a few lines were changed, but sometimes I couldn’t even tell the difference,” Kreppein said. “It was a bold choice to set it in Bloomington-Normal, especially coupled with some of the more evocative images in the show, but I think it was the right choice.”
The play’s message resonated with many students.
“I really enjoyed the performance and thought the message was very topical,” freshman Angie Cornwell said. “The design for the show was inventive and successful in enhancing the story. I also think Chris Woodley’s portrayal of Berenger was phenomenal!”
“The rhinoceroses were such a unique (but very effective) way of portraying society’s tendency to discriminate against those who differ from them, as well as turn against those who hold different opinions.,” sophomore Nathan Vartivarian said.
“The not-so-subtle Trump references really accentuated this. The rhinoceros imagery may be absurd, but I think it reflects the absurd world we live in, and our reluctance to change as a society.”
“I loved how the show, quite literally, left the audience with the powerful message of resist,” Ranta said.
The most important takeaway from the play is the various outlets available to get political and social conversations started.
“Theatre has the ability to inspire people to take action and engage in our political climate,” McGowan said.