Large, destructive, and possessed of few qualities one would term "cute," a rhinoceros is the sort of beast certain to inspire talk among the townsfolk when it goes barreling through the center of a French village. When the villagers start turning into rhinos, well, now you've got a story. We see Eugene Ionesco's absurdist classic through the befuddled and slightly red-rimmed eyes of the dissolute Berenger (Troy Dunn), a man of simple tastes for whom breakfast comes corked. Dunn delivers a nicely accessible performance that gives the audience something to latch on to as things get progressively stranger. The rest of the cast is committed to acting styles that are more displayed than inhabited and, rather unusual for a production directed by Frederíque Michel, the quality is remarkably inconsistent, though her inimitable style remains intact. Fortunately, the more troublesome performers vanish at the act break.
Bo Roberts embodies the sanctimonious bourgeoisie as Jean, the respectable businessman. The blue suit and power tie (costumes by Josephine Poinsot), paired with the actor's intentionally deliberate line readings, give the impression there's more than a tip of the pompadour to the Reagan persona. Justin Davanzo and David E. Frank are particularly fine when, as Logician and Gentleman, respectively, their increasingly faulty reasoning has them arriving at staggeringly illogical conclusions. It's an existential cartoon providing rich counterpoint to the main action. As Daisy, the requisite pretty young lady, Nita Mickley is as fresh as her character's name yet quite capable of shading the character as things get weird. Comedy through honesty is exemplified by Ruthie Crossley, who has a very nice scene in which she embraces her husband's recent rhinocerocity.
Derek Prouse's translation is a very stage-bound thing in which French forms of address and English anachronisms such as "I feel full of beans!" co-exist. I suspect Michel's hand in adding a throwaway reference to the recent French elections in an attempt to contemporize the piece. The set (Charles A. Duncombe) is an attractively functional, if not overly sturdy, arrangement of wall units that are easily reconfigured. The lack of masking, though, somewhat undercuts the town's transformation, as from where I was sitting one could clearly watch the herd assemble.
Presented by and at City Garage, 1340-1/2 Fourth St., Santa Monica. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 5:30 p.m. Jun. 1-Jul. 15. (310) 319-9939. www.citygarage.org.