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Keyword: ‘Tom Kondilas’


September 15th, 2017 No comments

Went and saw Rhinoceros last night at convergence. For those of you unfamiliar with this play, you can read about it on Wikipedia. What is of most interest is the background experiences of Ionesco as he grew and became a man, specifically, his Jewish ethnicity, an ethnicity which the Radical Right in Romania would begin to attack in 1930s under the guise of “illegal immigration” and “fraudulent citizenship.” These themes and ideas should be familiar, as, today, it is clear that they come from a very old playbook.

Convergence puts up a timely play, to be sure. What is an ostensibly sensible, refined, and cultured town (country? USA?) supposed to do when a rhinoceros appears and begins smashing things, killing a poor kitten, and destroying everything in his path? What, further, should said town do when its own sensible and refined citizens begin turning into rhinoceroses? They all begin to fit in, play along, and do what everyone else is doing. But events take a more ominous tone as the entire town begins to change. The arguments should sound familiar:

BOTARD: I never believe journalists. They’re all liars. I don’t need them to tell me what to think; I believe what I see with my own eyes. Speaking as a former teacher, I like things to be precise, scientifically valid; I’ve got a methodical mind.

BOTARD: Please forgive me, Mr. Papillon. But you can’t deny that the colour problem is one of the great stumbling blocks of our time.
DUDARD: I know that, we all know that, but it has nothing to do with …
BOTARD: It’s not an issue to be dismissed lightly, Mr. Dudard. The course of history has shown that racial prejudice …

BERENGER: You shouldn’t reject medical advice.
JEAN: Doctors invent illnesses that don’t exist.
BERENGER: They do it in good faith-just for the pleasure of looking after people.
JEAN: They invent illnesses, they invent them, I tell you.
BERENGER: Perhaps they do-but after they invent them they cure them.
JEAN: I only have confidence in veterinary surgeons.

Throughout, Ionesco uses syllogisms from a few side characters to expose the absurd logic that comes into play when people attempt to discuss what they believe and why. The insertion of these sections creates a meta-dialog with the audience as it can begin to see the nature of the conversations regarding sensible people transforming into rhinoceroses:

LOGICIAN: [to the OLD GENTLEMAN] Here is an example of a syllogism. The cat has four paws. Isidore and Fricot both have four paws. Therefore Isidore and Fricot are cats.
OLD GENTLEMAN: [to the LOGICIAN] My dog has got four paws.
LOGICIAN: [to the OLD GENTLEMAN] Then it’s a cat.

These absurd arguments become all-too-real as Berenger begins to see his own friends and co-workers transform into Rhinos.

JEAN: I tell you it’s not as bad as all that. After all, rhinoceroses are living creatures the same as us; they’ve got as much right to life as we have !
BERENGER: As long as they don’t destroy ours in the process. You must admit the difference in mentality.
JEAN: [pacing up and down the room, and in and out of the bathroom] Are you under the impression that our way of life is superior?
BERENGER: Well at any rate, we have our own moral standards which I consider incompatible with the standards of these animals.
JEAN: Moral standards! I’m sick of moral standards ! We need to go beyond moral standards !
BERENGER: What would you put in their place?
JEAN: [still pacing] Nature!
JEAN: Nature has its own laws. Morality’s against Nature.
BERENGER: Are you suggesting we replace our moral laws by the law of the jungle?
JEAN: It would suit me, suit me fine.

One only need recall Charlottesville and the “fine young men” and their torches to see that greater numbers appear to be turning into rhinoceroses right in front of our eyes. Morality begins to unwind and transform to the Hobbesian “bellum omnium contra omnes”.

And soon, we see people begin to change what they believe, through the simple constant exposure to the ideas, accommodating things that were abhorrent:

DUDARD: What if you do? You only have to keep out of their way. And there aren’t as many as all that.
BERENGER: I see them all over the place. You’ll probably say that’s being morbid, too.
DUDARD: They don’t attack you. If you leave them alone, they just ignore you. You can’t say they’re spiteful. They’ve even got a certain natural innocence, a sort of frankness. Besides I walked right along the avenue to get to you today. I got here safe and sound, didn’t I? No trouble at all.
BERENGER: Just the sight of them upsets me. It’s a nervous thing. I don’t get angry–no, it doesn’t pay to get angry, you never know where it’ll lead to, I watch out for that. But it does something to me, here! [He points to his heart.] I get a tight feeling inside.
DUDARD: I think you’re right to a certain extent to have some reaction. But you go too far. You’ve no sense of humour, that’s your trouble, none at all. You must learn to be more detached, and try and see the funny side of things.
BERENGER: I feel responsible for everything that happens. I feel involved, I just can’t be indifferent.
DUDARD: Judge not lest ye he judged. If you start worrying about everything that happens you’d never be able to go on living.
BERENGER: If only it had happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we’d just read about it in the papers, one could discuss it quietly, examine the question from all points of view and come to an objective conclusion. We could organize debates with professors and writers and lawyers, and blue-stockings and artists and people. And the ordinary man in the street, as well-it would be very interesting and instructive. But when you’ re involved yourself, when you suddenly find yourself up against the brutal facts you can’t help feeling directly concerned-the shock is too violent for you to stay cool and detached. I’m frankly surprised, I’m very very surprised. I can’t get over it.
DUDARD: Well I’m surprised, too. Or rather I was. Now I’m starting to get used to it.

Things become more ominous, as Berenger and Daisy become the only humans left.

BERENGER: [darting to the radio] Let’s turn on the radio for the news!
DAISY: Yes, we must find out how things stand!
[The sound of trumpeting comes from the radio. BERENGER peremptorily switches it off. But in the distance other trumpetings, like echoes, can be heard.]
BERENGER: Things are getting really serious! I tell you frankly, I don’t like it!
[She is trembling.]
BERENGER: [very agitated] Keep calm! Keep calm!
DAISY: They’ve taken over the radio stations!
BERENGER: [agitated and trembling] Keep calm, keep calm!
[DAISY runs to the up-stage window, then to the down-stage window and looks out; BERENGER does the same in the opposite order, then the two come and face each other centre-stage.]
DAISY: It’s no joke any longer. They mean business!
BERENGER: There’s only them left now; nobody but them. Even the authorities have joined them.
[They cross to the windows as before, and meet again centre-stage.]
DAISY: Not a soul left anywhere.
BERENGER: We’re all alone, we’re left all alone.

Berenger attempts to save the world with Daisy, but even Daisy turns in the end, leaving Berenger all alone.

BERENGER: How can we save the world, if you don’t?
DAISY: Why bother to save it?
BERENGER: What a thing to say l Do it for me, Daisy. Let’s save the world.
DAISY: After all, perhaps it’s we who need saving. Perhaps we’re the abnormal ones.
BERENGER: You’re not yourself, Daisy, you’ve got a touch off ever.
DAISY: There aren’t any more of our kind about anywhere, are there?
BERENGER: Daisy, you’re not to talk like that!
[DAISY looks all around at the rhinoceros heads on the walls, on the landing door, and now starting to appear along the footlights.]
DAISY: Those are the real people. They look happy. They’re content to be what they are. They don’t look insane. They look very natural. They were right to do what they did.
BERENGER: [clasping his hands and looking despairingly at DAISY] We’re the ones who are doing right, Daisy, I assure you.
DAISY: That’s very presumptuous of you!
BERENGER: You know perfectly well I’m right.
DAISY: There’s no such thing as absolute right. It’s the world that’s right–not you and me.

To the end, when Berenger realizes that he alone must fight:

BERENGER: People who try to hang on to their individuality always come to a bad end! Oh well, too bad! I’ll take on the whole of them ! I’ll put up a fight against the lot of them, the whole lot of them! I’m the last man left, and I’m staying that way until the end. I’m not capitulating !

Once again, a timely play from convergence that was well-directed by Jonathan Wilhelm, with a fantastic set by Wilhelm as well—stark white set-pieces with black and white costumes, which stand in contrast to the muddled mess that humans make of belief and logic. Tom Kondilas is wonderful as the increasingly frantic Berenger, and he even rocks a ‘fro like Gene Wilder in the movie. It’s a long show, but definitely worth seeing.

NEOMFA Play Festival

February 14th, 2012 No comments

Went to the NEOMFA festival on February 4 and February 9 at convergence and had a blast.  First of all, there were so many faces there that I recognized that it literally was like walking into a holiday celebration at a family house.

Mike Williams’ piece Plant Life was up first.  While it felt a bit unfinished, it was a yearning piece that sought and looked forward with hope to the possibility that the future might bring.  Alan’s (Tom Kondilas) wife Leslie (Liz Conway) has liver disease and needs a new liver.  The waiting list game isn’t working for the pair and they opt in to the possibilities for a new liver presented by a research scientist (Michael Regnier) whose work with plants has yielded intriguing possibilities.  Combined with this, the deterioration of Alan and Leslie’s relationship begins against the disease and the financial stress on the pair (he is a poor artist, she is the bread-winner).  There were two real highlights, I felt. The first was the rapid succession of wake-up-we-have-to-go moments when the phone rang announcing a possible liver donor had been found.  The succession demonstrated the frustration, terror, and effort that is involved in dealing with transplantation and accomplished the task of moving the play forward both in time and in plot.  The second was the work of convergence in using their trap to allow the birth of the plant Leslie from the pod. Having planted and tended the seed given him by the mad scientist, Alan receives the fruits of his labors in the form of a “new” Leslie who holds within her the liver that the real Leslie needs.  While at first an innocuous plant, at the end it is a massive pod that breaks open revealing: Leslie.  The effect was incredible and the audience rejoiced in seeing it—showing again that to a certain extent spectacle is what drives entertainment in a theater.

Jarod Witkowski’s play Nothing Funny was quite different from Williams’ piece, which was primarily plot-driven. Witkowski’s play’s concern is innocuous enough, a son (Benjamin Gregg) and his relationship (or lack thereof) with his parents played by both Amy Bistok Bunce and Wes Shofner—whom it was great to see at convergence again.  The play begins with the mother shoving dinner to her son saying, “I never liked you much as a kid.”  From there the play explodes in an onslaught of strange and rambling monologues, songs, dislocated scene sequences, jumps in time and space, odd interludes, and startling uses of the space that create a highly expressionistic and subjective emotional dissection of a family’s dysfunctional life together.  A television and colorful old pump assembly (put together by Wes) allowed for movement through time at the push of a…handle.  So the play jumps between the present, the future, the past, funny interlude, monologue, etc.  By focusing on these three people and their relationship with one another, Witkowski does a highly effective job of excavating the emotional life of the family: the resentments, disappointments, yearning for connection, and inability to connect or even express themselves—comically highlighted by the constant refrain of both parents: “grammatical error” as their son speaks.  That is, it’s not enough to strive sincerely to express yourself clearly to another person, but to have to do it in precisely correct grammar—as that seems to be what the person your talking to is focused on—well, that just makes it all the more difficult.

Both of the plays were challenging and fun to see and convergence really came together to put on a wonderful set of shows for the NEOMFA playwrights.

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