When Theater Becomes an Art: A Study of the Multi-faceted Nature of Absurd Theater in Eugene Ionesco's Didactic Play “Rhinoceros”

Student Author(s)

Athina Alvarez

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Anne Larson

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By writing “anti-plays,” “comedic-dramas,” “pseudo-dramas,” and “ tragic-farces,” Eugene Ionesco emerges as a master of what can be referred to as the “anti-theater” movement of the nineteen-fifties. In the nineteen-sixties, however, Ionesco’s works announced a sort of evolution in his creative process in the sense that his plays privileged and highlighted the much more serious theme of absurdity, as portrayed by his most utilized character, Béranger. In Rhinocéros (1959), Ionesco proposes a theater that not only reflects society’s daily quotidian life, but rather focuses on shocking his spectator in order to force him or her to contemplate the human condition. This didactic play remains relevant to the contemporary world, as exhibited by the numerous representations and mises-en-scènes of Rhinocéros that have taken place since its creation in 1959, leading up to its most recent interpretation by the Théâtre de la Ville de Paris in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in November 2012. The quantity and variety of the representations testify to the universality of the play as well as to its timeless nature, since, in his play, Ionesco proposes a reflection on the comportment of men in the face of dictators rising to power in the twentieth century. He not only denounces political fascism, but also condemns all forms of totalitarianism that were developing most often through the intermediary of language. Rhinocéros reveals not only the exceptional qualities of Ionesco’s capacities as a writer and humanist observer of our society, but also, and most importantly, it re-actualizes the genius-creator of the post-war dramatist that he was.

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