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                  By Eugene Paul


The New Yiddish Rep returns after  Moshe Yassur’s distinguished production in Yiddish there of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman with his earnest, underfed  staging of Eugene Ionesco’s indigestible Rhinoceros, whose Yiddish  translation – there are the necessary crutch of titles – seems to underscore its deliberate absurdism.  Miller wrote about people;  Ionesco wrote about ideas. Miller wrote about the effect of an individual on his family;  Ionesco wrote about mass hysteria and its effect on the individual.  They are bookends of the human dilemma. Both are tragedies. That ought to tell you something about people.


Ionesco’s play – it’s still very Gallic, he wrote in French – has been faithfully translated by Eli Rosen, who plays Jean, the  typical French ideologue who turns into a rhinoceros before our eyes, a process that is much more comprehensible in thought than in action, so we give him a little slack. Oh, well, a lot. Which is the culmination of the  scattered first act presenting a typical French community—or rather, the idea of one – going about its daily routines until a rhinoceros stampedes through town, and in the process, flattens a kitten, which is carried by its owner, The Housewife (Macha Fogel) tearfully into the local café, the center of life,  and is soothed by all and sundry with a shot of liqueur, Ionesco being farcical, the kitten  a flattened doll, no hope of naturalism, too real.  Besides, we are dealing with the idea of rhinoceroses. heaven forfend the real thing.   We wouldn’t be here.  Too repellent, too dangerous.  Too scary.





Exactly his point.  In 1959, Ionesco has aimed his anti-Nazi play at the mass hysteria which subsumed an entire population, a contagion so powerful no one could resist it in spite of their better angels. Little by little, and then in a rush, the population, all the people in the community, become rhinoceroses until only one human is left, Berenger (Luzer Twersky), Ionesco’s nebbisher Everyman. The power of the mass, luring everyone to be just like everyone else, is so strong that Daisy (Maiky Goldman) the lovely, kind, sympathetic  girl Berenger falls in love with, and the only character in the play who behaves  what we call naturally, falls under the spell of all the others who have become rhinoceroses. She tries to persuade Berenger to go with her and become a rhinoceros like everybody else.  Horrified, Berenger, slaps her, anything to make her snap out of the madness which has overcome the whole community.  Instead, she joins them.  Berenger, Everyman, is alone.  No- One- Else Man. Funny?  Not.


Translating into Yiddish  a French village succumbing to the Rhinoceros Nazis has the effect of stating the obvious but that’s far from the total substance of Ionesco’s play, which flails at target after target of human failings, inevitably resulting in a message of despair. The world is transformed. Humans can do nothing to stop the transformation.  What’s right, what’s wrong? Where’s hope? The present underlying text: if Jews are doomed, everyone is doomed. And yet, the existential reality is the opposite: the fact of the play, the fact of its presence speaks to the hope, optimism and resilience of people. This is the essence of director Yassur’s swift, though jumbled production with a company that itself is earnestly optimistic in this appalling message for humankind. Yes, it’s harrowing, but we’re doing this so that you don’t turn into a rhinoceros.  So don’t.


In the large and loving company I also admired Amy Coleman, Caraid O’Brien, Gera Sandler and Sean Griffin. Moshe Yassour and David Mandelbaum were extremely ingenious in their minimalist set devisings, Susannah Norris-Lindsay clearly enjoyed providing costumes and Beate Hein Bennett gives us a rewarding program full of notes.


Rhinoceros. At the Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street.  Tickets: $20-$45. 866-811-4111. 2 hrs. Thru Oct. 8.