Theatre of the absurd

Theatre of the absurd. It’s a perplexing mash-up of existential philosophy with unconventional playwrighting and performance art. And you can see it being performed this weekend, and next, at Scottsdale Community College.

It makes for a refreshing break from the absurd political theater swirling all around us of late.

Signs for which “yes” means “no” and “no” means “yes.” Platforms built on love of Constitution that seek to tweak its content in any number of ways. Cries for smaller government from folks eager to tell others what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

Real life not absurd enough for you? Check out "Rhinoceros" at Scottsdale Community College.

“Rhinoceros” is a late-1950s work by playwright Eugene Ioensco, who also wrote “The Bald Soprano” — which SCC’s theatre arts department will present come Spring in the school’s newly renovated performing arts center. Don’t even get me started on the absurdity of contractors and timelines.

I was drawn to the work by its social context of anxiety, fear and hysteria. Think communism and fascism. Think issues of race, ethnicity and identity. Think women who still walked around in hats, high heels and gloves.

Randy Messersmith, director or SCC’s theatre arts department and producer for SCC’s “Rhinoceros” suggested I “think of an episode of Family Guy, with Rhino heads” — noting that the play is appropriate for the sophisticated 14-year-old student and up.

It’s the perfect work to perform given the absurdity some see in contemporary politics. Signs likening our President to a “witch doctor.” Campaign commercials featuring “I’m not a witch” rhetoric.

Attempts to deny the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to fellow Americans whose religion or sexual orientation we deem inferior — even as these Americans serve at home and oversees to protect and preserve our freedoms.

I encounter the absurd on a daily basis, but it’s harder to recognize when you’re in the middle of it. Seeing “Rhinoceros,” directed for SCC by Boyd Branch, felt like a bit of time travel — and made me wonder what contemporary culture might look like if presented on a similar stage several decades from now.

I can’t claim to be a fan of this particular genre. But I do respect the artistry of Randy Messersmith and Boyd Branch. There’s never a dull moment in their offbeat offerings.

I prefer to get my existentialism from primary sources, many of which I read in their original language during graduate school studies in religion and philosophy. Still, it’s a thing of beauty to see what Boyd and Messersmith have done with this piece.

It’s odd and strangely jarring — just as it should be.

— Lynn

Note: When buying tickets for “Rhinoceros,” ask about their Halloween costume discount performance as well as dates/times for talk backs with creative team and cast members. Also note that several Valley theater productions feature a pairing of politics and performing arts — including “The Sound of Music” by Copperstar Repertory Company (through Oct 30 only at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts) and “A Christmas Carol” by Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert (Dec 1-23).

Coming up: Theater with a holiday twist — from the Radio City Rockettes to an original adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” for Actors Theatre of Phoenix.

Update: Even as I prepare this for posting, three cable news outlets are reporting on suspicious packages aboard cargo planes using vastly different language ranging from “an abundance of caution” to “major (terrorist) event.” This play couldn’t be better timed if you have an interest in how individuals, groups, governments and media outlets gather, process and share information.


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