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New Yiddish Rep Presents Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" at The Castillo Theatre
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New Yiddish Rep Presents Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" at The Castillo Theatre

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New Yiddish Rep
In Association with The Castillo Theatre
Presents a Yiddish World Premiere

By Eugene Ionesco

Directed by Moshe Yassur
Translated by Eli Rosen
In Yiddish with English Supertitles

The Castillo Theatre
543 West 42nd Street
NY, NY 10036

Eli Rosen as Jean
Luzer Twersky as Berenger
Malky Goldman as Daisy
Mira Kessler as The Waitress
Sean Griffin as The Grocer/Dudard
Caraid O’Brien as The Grocer’s Wife/Mrs. Ox
Gera Sandler as The Gentleman/Papillon
Alec Leyzer Burko as The Logician/Botard
Macha Fogel as The Housewife (with cat)
Amy Coleman, Mira Kessler as Fire Brigade

Production Stage Manager: Anna Engelsman
Set Design: Moshe Yassur & David Mandelbaum
Costume Design: Susannah Norris-Lindsay
Lighting Design: Evan Kerr
Sound Design: Jesse Freedman
Press: Jim Randolph
Dramaturg/Program Editor: Beate Hein Bennett

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 13, 2017

It was thrilling to experience New Yiddish Rep’s interpretation, in Yiddish, of the Romanian Ionesco’s avant-garde, 1959 Rhinoceros, a play about mob-induced paranoia and prejudice, and the rise of Fascism. The play is translated from French to Yiddish by Eli Rosen, who appears in a lead role as Jean. It’s directed by Moshe Yassur, a fellow Romanian who actually met the part-Jewish (his mother’s side) Ionesco, and many allusions to Nazis and the Holocaust, as well as present day politics, have been woven through the dialogue. The set design, by Yassur and David Mandelbaum, the company’s Artistic Director, are extremely minimal, but with superb projections and clear, overhead supertitles in English.

Watching Berenger (played by Luzer Twersky) in this play, I thought of Tevye, the milkman, in “Fiddler…”, asking God, in a dozen ways, why society is changing. In Tevye’s case, the absurdity was cultural tolerance and new ways of thinking, a progressive movement, yet, in Berenger’s case, the absurdity was cultural intolerance and backward ways of thinking, a retrogressive movement. In fact, we saw Botard holding his arm straight up and forward, in the “Heil Hitler” imagery, as his neighbors enabled, colluded with, then morphed into rhinoceroses.

The unkempt, tardy, alcoholic Berenger, who works for a newspaper, is reprimanded by the comely, natty, self-aggrandizing Jean, who happens to be the first character in the French town to find his skin turning greenish brown and leathery, as he grows horns, growls and honks, and starts to crawl onstage on hands and knees. Sean Griffin, as Dudard, and Alec Leyzer Burko, as Botard, argue in a café about nothing of importance, for the sake of passing time in esoteric intelligentsia. The arguments turn into circles of spouted philosophies, but noticeably, many Yiddish words seemed similar to their English translations, like green, cat, kaput, pachyderm, bump, and more. The town’s inhabitants gather in clusters and stampede every once in awhile, with vociferous sound effects of grunts, honking, and growls, stage smoke, and costume effects of rhinoceros masks as well as hooded robes that cover the face.

As noted above, sets and costumes were minimal, but this is a synthesized adaptation and one that’s very effective in showcasing the terror of rising neo-fascism, and, by comparison, the rise of the Nazis in the 1930’s. Berenger and Daisy (Malky Goldman), his girlfriend, ride out the storm of rhinoceroses, until they are left as the only humans, but Daisy, eventually, cannot resist the comfort of mass identity. Each character was expertly portrayed throughout the two-act play. Lighting, by Evan Kerr, sound, by Jesse Freedman, and costumes, by Susannah Norris-Lindsay, were expertly woven through this drama at Castillo Theatre, on far West 42nd Street. After briefly acclimating to the English supertitles, one is able to keep words and action in the same peripheral vision. I was engrossed throughout, especially thinking of the week’s nightly real and comedic newscasts, and the actual existential dread building that societal transformation into quasi-rhinoceroses is not such an imaginary possibility. Kudos to New Yiddish Rep for this timely and courageous production.

New Yiddish Rep's Production of Ionesco's "Rhinoceros"
Courtesy of Pedro Hernandez

New Yiddish Rep's Production of Ionesco's "Rhinoceros"
Courtesy of Pedro Hernandez

New Yiddish Rep's Production of Ionesco's "Rhinoceros"
Courtesy of Pedro Hernandez

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at