Lawyers usually ask the questions, but in this Eugène Ionesco play, one of them is on the receiving end of a doozy: "What could be more natural than a rhinoceros?"
In the Colorado College drama and dance department's production of Rhinoceros, it's Dudard, the lawyer played by Seth Braley, who's charged with discussing the abnormality and potential causes of "Rhinocerosism." The problem sounds simple: French villagers are metamorphosing into rhinos. But it's really kind of a mess.
The first half of the three-act play is farcical, with neighbors and friends turning into ungulates. The second half turns serious and "plays as if the situation was real," says Braley. "What are these people going to do, now that there are only a few people left on the planet? It's kind of frightening."
If this just sounds absurd to you, that's all right. Ionesco was a playwright from the "Theatre of the Absurd" school of thought. Martin Esslin coined the phrase in 1961 to describe a group of plays, primarily by European playwrights in the late '40s through the '60s, which suggested that the human condition is basically senseless.
"The message is that there isn't one," says Esslin mentee, CC professor and Rhinoceros director Tom Lindblade. Ionesco sees making sense, he adds, "as kind of a losing proposition."
When people aren't running in circles or throwing themselves off walls to avoid rhinos, expect innuendo galore. "Every line basically means three different things at the same time," says Braley. "There are lots of lines that symbolize Communism and Nazism."
Despite the serious undercurrent, actress Madalyn Rilling says the play is not without some gags. "We don't have people slipping on banana peels yet," says Rilling. "But we're only an inch away." She believes the political and philosophical themes of the play, such as going against the group mentality and fighting for sense in an absurd world, are still just as relevant today as they were when Ionesco wrote the play 50 years ago.
So it'll be thought-provoking. Just don't expect it to make sense.