By Sue Suchyta
Is mass conformity a harbinger of a society’s downfall, or a crowded culture’s way of keeping the peace? Are we compliant sheep, or, as playwright Eugene Ionesco suggests, rhinos running over anything that gets in our collective way at the expense of our individuality?
Wayne State University’s Studio Theatre Company will present, “Rhinoceros” at 8 p.m. Feb. 3 to 5 and 10 to 12. The show will be staged at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4605 Cass Ave. at Forest while the subterranean Studio Theatre renovation continues at its Hilberry Theatre basement site.
Director Greg Bailey, a Wayne State doctoral candidate from Vista, Calif., takes a fresh look at the conformity being forced on people in the 21st century, and what it takes for a “normal” person to become a monster.
When “Rhinoceros” debuted in 1959, the Western world was still reeling from the horrors of the Nazi war machine, while at the same time frightened of the implications of fascism and communism.
Bailey, with his team’s input, decided to have the rhinoceros represent the encroachment of technology on every aspect of modern lives.
“The message of the play is the same, but instead of the rhinoceros being harbingers of war and the impending takeover of the Nazi regime, the rhinoceros represent the technological and media takeover as our smart phones and constant need to connect online force us to lose the ability to connect face to face with each other,” said costume designer Anne Suchyta, a junior in the WSU technical theater program and a lifelong Dearborn resident.
“I used this concept of a technological takeover in the costumes by starting everyone in normal brightly colored clothing controlling their technology in the form of handheld smart phones and laptops, and slowly changing their costumes to a media obsessed plastic look,” Suchyta said. “Think Lady Gaga, to where bits of technology are literally taking over their bodies until they become the devices and Berenger (the protagonist) is the only one left in control of his humanity.”
Annabelle Young, a senior from Dearborn Heights, plays Daisy, a scientist and the last woman resisting the rhinoceros transformation. Berenger, the male lead who is in love with her, hopes she will marry him and restore the human race. Daisy, however, doesn’t want to “save the world,” and is inexplicably drawn to the rhinos, suddenly seeing their seductive appeal.
Patrick Loos, a senior from Detroit, portrays Berenger, the protagonist and “Everyman” who resists yielding to temptation and becomes the last remaining human.
Senior Jacqueline Michnuk of Dearborn plays two roles: Bouef, who follows a spouse into the unknown world of the rhinoceros with blind loyalty because they “don’t want to leave (them) like that.” She also plays the part of a waitress in the first act, one of the townspeople preoccupied with trivial concern who fails to see the dangerous implications of the rhinoceros.
Freshman Matt Miazgowicz of Dearborn will play the logic-worshiping Old Gentleman. Ionesco views the universe as absurd and nonsensical, which allows people to draw meaning from it. By resisting he feels they simply establish their own absurdity.
Andrick Siegmund, a senior from Pleasant Ridge, portrays Jean, who thinks he is so superior to others that he is above morality.
Dudard, portrayed by senior Joe Gehart of Shelby Township, tries using logic and acclimation to adjust to the rhinoceros, then goes out among them to see the spectacle first hand, which in turn changes him into one of the crowd.
Taurean Hogan, a senior from Detroit, portrays the Logician, who represents the other rationalist characters and who inadvertently establishes that logic cannot explain everything.
Botard is played by senior Robbie Dwight of Detroit. He portrays an old-fashioned schoolmaster who initially claims the rhinoceros stories are either a hoax or shameless propaganda. His character illustrates how even intellectuals are misled by the silver tongues of the power elite.
Papillon, played by sophomore Alyssa Lucas of Garden City, portrays the head of Berenger’s office. When Papillon is transformed, Berenger becomes convinced that the metamorphosis must be involuntary for a man of such stature to be changed.
Allison Fisher, a freshman from Birmingham, will play the Housewife.
With nine actors in the cast, and some playing multiple roles, Suchyta faces the challenge, on a $300 budget, of showing the director’s vision of human transformation to indistinguishable, technological monsters.
Production meetings in late October helped define the concept of the show.
“Once the collaboration turned into a unified concept, I then created renderings when casting was determined,” Suchyta said. “I will submit my final renderings to my advisor and director the first week of January, and once approved I will start to build, buy and pull the necessary pieces.
“A stage costume is designed to perform two functions: to visually define the character for the audience, and to help establish the overall mood or theme of the play. An effective costume sparks a subconscious connection in the audience’s mind to help them identify with characters before they even speak.
“The trick to costuming is recreating these stereotypes and connections effectively onstage to help the audience understand … the changing of the characters from humans controlling technology to technologically controlled humans.”
Admission is $12 for general admission, and $10 for all students with identification, senior citizens 62 years and older, WSU faculty and staff and Alumni Association members. For group discounts or additional information, call (313) 577-0852.
Online ticket orders can be ordered at wsushows.com. For the box office, call (313) 577-2960 for place orders or for additional information.