Sunday, October 7, 2012

Rhinoceroses course through BAM

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Went to watch the stampede of rhinoceroses at BAM . The play written by Ionesco can be interpreted as an allegory about fascism, in the vein of Animal Farms. It was written in 1957, following years where humanity in Europe forgot about its humanity and was moved by primal instinct. But was it? In the years since Ionesco, our conception of humanity and animality has changed. Hannah Arendt argued that being human is what makes us potential sadists, not our animality. Denying its humanity to other humans is a human trait.

Meanwhile our conception of animals has changed drastically. We now deny animals a capacity for moral judgement, no more pig judgments, no more good goats and bad wolves - though I can still see a clear difference between a mean dog and a nice dog, - we might want to reconsider the capacity for ethics of certain animals such as chimps and whales.. Animals are not terrible, ferocious, dangerous, threatening beings anymore, we believe these adjectives describe us better. The director of this version of the Rhinoceros does not make his intentions clear. The Rhinos have a lot to say for themselves, even if they tramp on  a cat ("the cat only lacked speech to be human") from time to time. They run. They dance, and sing. Clearly, they have sex. Meanwhile humanity is pretty dull. There's a a range of characters some clearly symbolic of various philosophical schools, Cartesians, Sartrians,  But the play is not an allegory for good vs bad in the hands of this director, which makes it a more interesting exercise for our times. The animals are instinctive, loud, unpredictable. This has become desirable. Humanity in "Rhinoceros" works in an office, and throws balls of paper to each other. I would have joined the rhinos without hesitation. Who could resist that big horn on their forehead. Or two horns. One by one humans are attracted by the realm of the rhino and leave humanity, more or less willingly. It should be read as fascism gaining members over, but it is directed as wild natural sensuality gaining over modest self control. However the last man standing is a drunkard. In a scene that was maybe originally intended to be repulsive, a woman recognises her husband in the rhino charging the office and is delighted at being reunited with him, she has love in the eye. And when the last woman joins the rhinoceros, she sashays to them, readying herself for some more interesting romps then the one she just experienced with the last human.

I wondered, can a director really distort an author's work in this way? Interpretations of a work can vary, but here, the director gives a different reading than the author originally intended. It's a bit shocking to me. Or does the director really think his staging of the play would deter us from wanting to become a rhino? They were a bit noisy, true, the whole play was a bit noisy. Some silence would have been good. Maybe then we would have resented the rhinos breaking it.

Not a review.

Published by  - -  Arabella Hutter

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