Catching Rhinoceritis

By Annie Sears

Eugène Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, playing at The Geary through June 23, presents a series of challenges to theater-makers. How do you fill a stage with stampeding rhinos, wreaking havoc on a French provincial town? And how does one portray a rhino convincingly? Actor Matt DeCaro has figured out how to take the audience on “an imaginary ride,” says DeCaro. “I want it to be fun to watch.”

Actor David Breithbarth and Matt DeCaro in Asolo Repertory Theatre's 2018 production of Rhinoceros. Photo by Cliff Roles.

For many actors, the first consideration when stepping into a physical role is where the character’s energy emanates from and which part of the body initiates motion. To discover a rhino’s primary impetus, DeCaro took a trip to the zoo. “I looked at rhinoceroses for a while to try and see how they move,” says DeCaro. “Well, they didn’t move much, but I noticed a lot of it is from the shoulders.” So DeCaro leads with his shoulders, sometimes moving unilaterally—using only one side of his body—and sometimes bilaterally, using both sides simultaneously. No matter which way he’s moving, DeCaro sits back into his quads and keeps his elbows out, sensing the heaviness of a rhino’s frame. “I also have to track the horn in my imagination,” says DeCaro. “How does the horn grow? How does that change the way I move my neck and head?”

Transforming into a rhino is more than physical; it’s also vocal. The rhinos DeCaro observed at the zoo were pretty quiet, and DeCaro noticed that there weren’t many YouTube videos featuring rhinos trumpeting or squealing. So he relies on Ionesco’s description in the script: characters' voices growing more and more hoarse. That’s a dangerous stage direction for someone doing eight performances a week for four weeks—DeCaro has to be extra careful to protect his vocal cords. “When I’m trying to be rhinoceros-y,” he says, “rather than scraping my vocal cords together, I drop my voice down to my lower register and bounce the sound off my throat instead of resonating in my hard articulators. It’s pretty easy to do, actually.”

DeCaro is grateful to Movement Coach Danyon Davis and Director Frank Galati for their help. These two watch from the outside, allow DeCaro to experiment, and let him know what is coming across clearly. Having Davis offer movement expertise and Galati serve as a stand-in audience is valuable for DeCaro because for him, the audience’s experience is most important. “It’s easier for some people to suspend their disbelief than others,” says DeCaro. “I want to offer solid imagery so people believe.”

When asked about what’s happening in a rhino’s head, DeCaro said, “I’m hoping that will be evident from watching the scene.”

Seems you’ll have to experience it for yourself. Get your herd together, check out our deals on group sales, and get your tickets for Rhinoceros today!

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