They are all turning into rhinoceroses. The first sighting of a charging rhino in town sparks incessant debates — Asian or African, uni-horned or with two. The large beast is definitely ugly, it is agreed upon unanimously.
In no time, human beings in town diminish, rhinos grow in strength. What was beastly and revolting begins to be beautiful, their roars musical. If some inhabitants turned into rhinoceros reluctantly, others follow willingly, some by compulsion and a few as they cannot resist the growing majority.
“Rhinoceros,” staged at New Delhi's Shri Ram Centre by Puducherry-based Adishakti, at the recently concluded Bharat Rang Mahotsav, is layered with meanings. Skilled performances by almost all the actors involved, made it effortless to see the implied thoughts underlying the text.
A play written by French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco after the surge of fascism, when memories of the Second World War were still raw, is recreated competently — never giving the whiff of a dated script — by Vinay Kumar and his team. “Rhinoceros” is the directorial debut of Kumar, who has earlier brought to the stage powerful performances in “Impressions of Bhima” and “Brhannala” — all Adishakti endeavours.
Kumar says it was “safer in terms of content” to go in for a tested script for his first as a director. “Rhinoceros” comments on a shrinking individual space and voice, where mass opinion washes over all discordant tones. If the logician has a concrete role in the first half, it gets diminutive as the play chugs along. Debate, logic and individuality are swept over by collective illogic and hysteria.
Theatre of the Absurd
“Rhinoceros” skates over time constraints as its theme defies it. Though belonging to the theatre of the absurd genre, Kumar points out that the concept of “time and space is real” and in terms of visuals too there is “no abstraction.”
“In a fundamentally pluralistic, vibrant society, it is important to have so many different points of view. Alarmingly, the individual point of view is getting lesser. The person who talks becomes a comical character,” says Kumar about the relevance of “Rhinoceros” today.
With dialogue, debate and conversations the thread on which the play rests, physical movements are integral to the way “Rhinoceros” is conceived by Kumar. The actors rhythmically slant forward and back in the play. “In a conversation, the physical body structure is of leaning forward or backwards. Even if it is a friendly or a violent exchange, one is retracting and other attacking,” says Kumar who got acquainted with Ionesco's work during his stint at the School of Drama, Thrissur.
Four boxes make the sets. All movements are centred around them and frenzied moments are performed often standing upon the stacked boxes. “Rhinoceros” celebrates individual space as one man stoically remains human as the world around him turns to rhinoceroses. His fear of losing his individuality is poignantly shown when he refuses to take off the bandage around his head, fearing he might have grown a horn like others around him. The man, a symbol for everyman, rues the lack of respect for an individual's opinions and space. It may look a trifle self-explanatory, but therein is the spirit of the play.