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‘Rhinoceros’ stampedes onto stage Thursday

“Rhinoceros” will open Thursday in Theatre 2 at 8 p.m. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

If a few students suddenly transformed into rhinoceroses, the campus would be a far more dangerous place. That is the premise of “Rhinoceros,” the USF School of Theatre and Dance’s first production of the year. 

Carlos Garcia, a senior majoring in theater performance, plays both the housewife and Mr. Pappion in the show. 

“It’s not something that get’s reproduced in mass media a lot,” Garcia said. “In the arts, you can choose to do mainstream plays and such; you can do ‘Wicked,’ maybe ‘Rent.’ You can choose to do those things and you’ll probably bring in a large audience, but if you choose to do ‘Rhinoceros’ you’re making a societal statement. That’s what we as art students are doing and I think that we want to show all students of any major that you can make your statement and see where it takes you, good or bad.”

“Rhinoceros” premieres Thursday in Theatre 2 at 8 p.m. and will run until Oct. 12. 

“There’s a line in the play that says ‘They’re a minority, but they’re a big minority and growing bigger every day,’” Garcia said. “A rhino is a very literally big object so even if there’s only three rhinos, imagine three rhinos standing in the bookstore. Whatever it is they want to do is going to happen, so sometimes the minority is just big enough in its own right.” 

The play was written by Eugène Ionesco in 1959, a time when communism, fascism and Nazism were on the rise throughout Europe.

“It’s really interesting how you watch the play now in 2014 and see how those same issues of conformity apply to us, just in different manners,” Garcia said. “The idea is that the rhinos are representative of conforming to society … the characters change into rhinos; whether they willingly choose to or are forced to is a question for the viewer to decide.”

Shelby McDonell, a junior  majoring in theater performance, plays Jean, the foil of the play’s main character Berenger, who is played by PJ Gentry.

“Berenger is sort of your lackadaisical drunkard type of character and he has his friend, Jean, who’s very upright and haughty taught,” McDonell said.

David Frankel, assistant director for the theater program at USF, is directing the show.  Aside from his work at USF, Frankel is the artistic director and president of the Tampa Repertory Theatre.

“He’s always been a great professor and I’ve been dying to work with him as a director,” Garcia said. “He tells you the context of things — what’s going on — but he leaves acting choices up to you.”

“Rhinoceros” is an absurdist play and contains both dramatic and comedic elements. Garcia said that while the play may seem like a comedy, during the show, one of the main characters transforms into a rhino onstage. He said it covers serious subject matter and forces its audience to think. 

“It’s interesting, I’d like to say it’s straight comedy because I think that would bring people in, but it’s not,” Garcia said. “It has hysterical moments but I think it’s more of a statement. If anything, I think you could classify it as dark comedy. Once the flatter scenes start hitting you, I think it’s not funny at all, it’s just poignant.”

Tickets can be purchased in advance online or over the phone for $8-$12 or at the door for $10-$15.

“I don’t think it hammers home any specific point; it’s a very open ended question for the audience to go home and not sleep over,” Garcia said. “At some point in your life, society’s going to make a shift towards something — whether it’s a new idea, a law, or just a passing fad — and you have to decide if it’s worth following. And sometimes you might just be standing alone.”