TDPS Presents Eugène Ionesco’s Absurdist Drama Rhinoceros

“There are many sides to reality. Choose the one that’s best for you. Escape into the world of imagination.”
-Daisy from Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco


Berkeley, CA – UC Berkeley Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies (TDPS) continues its 2014/2015 season with Rhinoceros, the absurdist drama from avant-garde playwright Eugène Ionesco, translated by Martin Crimp. When, one by one, the inhabitants of a provincial French town transmogrify into rhinoceroses, eventually only everyman Bérenger is left to choose: defend his humanity, or follow the popular movement? Ionesco’s absurdist tale brings big laughs–and bigger ideas–to the UC Berkeley stage. Directed by TDPS graduate student Joshua Williams, Rhinoceros will be performed in the Durham Studio Theater, November 14-23, 2014.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.

Ionesco claims the idea of Rhinoceros, which premiered in 1960, was partly inspired by writer Denis de Rougemont’s recounting of attending a Nazi rally, where the mass hysteria surrounding Hitler’s arrival forced Rougemont to rebell mentally and, in his view, singularly.  Says director Williams, a PhD in Performance Studies candidate, “Rhinoceros is a fable born out of a political moment–the rise of totalitarianism, and how alienation helped sustain that movement.” Undoubtedly, the playwright was also influenced by his own experience in Romania under Ceauşescu. However, while Rhinoceros may have been inspired by history, it still has bite and offers plenty of room for exploration. According to Williams, “We are approaching this play with no prescribed ideology; instead, we are asking questions and really investigating what it means to be a rhinoceros, and what it means to be a human.”

TDPS’s fresh take on Rhinoceros is aided by a new translation, written by Martin Crimp in 2007. Previously, most productions used the 1960 translation so audience members familiar with this story have likely experienced it with dated language. “Hearing dialogue that is current and witty will offer a new perspective,” Williams says, as will the production’s unique design that combines abstraction and materialism with a sense of whimsy.

Rhinoceros straddles the line between rich texture and abstraction, affording a diverse cast of 13 UC Berkeley student actors the opportunity to work in a non-realistic acting style that emphasizes movement. “I’m asking the actors to step outside their comfort zone–to stretch the boundaries of Realism and expand it to create a new form,” explains Williams. “Even professional actors can find that challenging, but these students are tremendously open and courageous in how they approach the material. This artistic generosity toward the style will result in a great performance.”

Ticket Prices:
Cal Students, Staff & Faculty, & Seniors: $13 online in advance, $15 at the door. ID required. General Admission: $18 online in advance, $20 at the door.
Tickets may be purchased in advance at and at the door one hour before the performance.

Supporting Symposiums:
In conjunction with its Nov. 14-23 production of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist classic Rhinoceros, the Department of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies at UC Berkeley is sponsoring two interdisciplinary symposiums.Both events are free and open to the public.    

1. “Textual Intimacies: Performing, Translating and Teaching Ionesco’s Rhinoceros

Friday, November 7 | 12-2pm | Dwinelle Hall, Room 370

This roundtable, prompted by Gayatri Spivak’s contention that “translation is the most intimate form of reading,” will explore the ways in which varying perspectives on a theatrical text participate in creating different kinds of translation, each of them supposing specific intimacies. Join us for a conversation around these varied forms of textual intimacy in an interdisciplinary discussion of Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, moderated by Églantine Colon of the UC Berkeley Department of French.

Roundtable participants: Rachel Shuh, UC Berkeley Department of French; Matthew Smith, UC Berkeley Department of French; Joshua Williams, Director of TDPS production of Rhinoceros; Martha Herrera-Lasso, Dramaturg of TDPS production of Rhinoceros; Christophe Lemaire, Assistant Director at Théâtre de la Ville, visiting company at Cal Performances

2. “Acting the Goat: Critical Perspectives on Art and Animality”

Friday, November 14 | 12-1 pm | Location TBA

Join a group of scholars and arts practitioners for a symposium on the role of animals and animality in contemporary art-making. Our guests will use TDPS’ production of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros as a jumping-off point into this exciting new area of social, political and artistic inquiry. What are the stakes of imagining animals the way we have, the way we do, the way we might?

Panelists include Vasile Stanescu (Stanford), Nina Varsava (Stanford), Amanda Eicher (Art Practice) and Joshua Williams (TDPS).

Marni Davis