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Rhinoceros Charges Into Brooklyn

Director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota discusses his new version of Eugene Ionesco's absurdist play coming to BAM. logo

Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota
New Yorkers will get a rare treat when Eugene Ionesco's absurdist classic, Rhinocéros, takes to the stage at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House, October 4-6, as part of the Next Wave Festival. The production comes from Paris' Théâtre de la Villein France, and has been directed by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, who originally staged the work in 2004 and has revisited the production for this new outing. Recently, Demarcy-Mota shared some insights into his unique approach to the work.

THEATERMANIA: What first drew you to the play?

EMMANUEL DEMARCY-MOTA: I needed to find a play that questions our times, even if it was not written today, and I'm always fascinated by the works that reveal the terrible forces of men. I also wanted it to be able to engage the ensemble of actors who have accompanied me for the past 15 years to experience a different writing - outsized, fantastic and poetic at the same time. I remembered this play, which I really liked as a teenager, probably because it raises the issue of transformation which is very sensitive at that age. I reread it several times over the years, and found that each re-reading echoed new disasters related to current events, be they natural (earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis ), or related to the destructive folly of man (and there are many examples). I also wanted a truly great group play and there are not so many of them, so we set to work.

A scene from Rhinoéros
© Jean-Louis Fernandez
TM: Can you talk a little about how you've integrated music and movement into the show?

EDM : I think it is a "natural" element in my work. I'm always interested, as a director, in the relationship of body and space, in movement, whether individual or collective. As a spectator, I had the chance to see, at a very young age, a lot of theater, but also dance (Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham). Music and movement are not added to the shows I direct, but are born at the same time. I am fortunate to work with a musician, Jefferson Lembeye, who attends all rehearsals and who creates the sound environment during the actual creative work: I require a particular sound universe, he responds in his own way, and with the actors I give a rhythmic form to the whole that is inseparable from the direction of actors, feelings or interpretation.

TM: You first staged Rhinocéros in 2004. How has your understanding of the play changed or deepened in the text in the intervening eight years?

EDM: The general meaning of the play – describing the rise of totalitarianism, tyranny, general identification of people who surrender to any new power – has not changed. From this point of view, the play has the same meaning as in 1959. However, in 2004, the world had changed: the Nazis crushed, USSR gone, the Berlin Wall had fallen. Since then, the world has been exposed to 9/11, widespread terrorism, the collapse of some tyrants in Africa, and the criminal persistence of another one in Syria.

Certainly Rhinocéros does not speak about that, since the action is at the beginning of such a process. But we cannot help but hear disturbing echoes between episodes of the play and these situations. Without being limited to extreme situations, we may also find what Ionesco described in mass identification phenomena: creation of sects, reign of political parties, and popular fascination with the stars, populism, and obviously religious spiritual, ideological fanaticism, up to the most innocent fashions.

TM: What informed your decision to have the production run without an intermission?

EDM: I do not like intermissions. But I do not, with some exceptions, like very long performances. I am always careful to work on the rhythm of a scene at the beginning of rehearsals, to always have in mind the actual duration of the whole, like a conductor always bearing in mind the duration, the pulse of a symphonic movement. The main reason is I believe that the general emotion of the trajectory of a show, which therefore includes climbs, paroxysms, relaxation and a conclusion seems stopped by intermissions. At the same time, I think the actors, who, on stage or behind the scenery, know that it will not stop, must not only stay more "on the pattern," as painters say. Major life activities are often, too, in one part, and cannot be divided. Like life itself ...