Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A lesson for our times in 'Rhinoceros' at ACT

Berenger (David Breitbarth) resists a rhino in "Rhinoceros."

Going to work, a man tells his colleagues that he and others saw a rhinoceros in the street.

“Fake news,” one of them snorts.

But it isn’t fake news in Eugène Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros,” staged by American Conservatory Theater.

What the man, Berenger (David Breitbarth), his friend Gene (Matt DeCaro), and others saw was indeed a rhino, and soon there are many more.

A colleague’s wife, Mrs. Boeuf (Trish Mulholland), arrives and says that her husband is ill and won’t be in to work. She doesn't realize that he has become a rhino.

Just then, that rhino rampages downstairs, leaving everyone wondering how to get out and her riding off on his back.

Before long, almost everyone in town has become a rhino, but Berenger resists such mindless conformity.

When Ionesco wrote the play in 1959, he was warning against the dangers of following the masses, as happened with the rise of fascism in Europe.

Skillfully directed by Frank Galati using a translation by Derek Prouse, this is a masterful, well-acted production led by Breitbarth as Berenger.

Gene (Matt DeCaro) begins to morph into a rhino during
visit by Berenger (David Breitbarth).
Especially noteworthy is DeCaro as he maneuvers through Gene’s transformation into a rhino. (Danyon Davis is the movement coach.)

Everyone else in the cast is terrific, too.

Special mention goes to scenic and costume designer Robert Perdziola, especially for the giant rhino ridden by Mrs. Boeuf and the one that Gene becomes.

Sound and music are by Joseph Cerqua and lighting by Chris Lundahl.

With its lessons for our times, “Rhinoceros” runs about 90 minutes with one intermission. 

It continues through June 23 at ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne