The star of Bowdoin's newest show could trample you.

Masque and Gown, in collaboration with the Department of Theater and Dance, opened its fall show, "Rhinoceros," last night. The most celebrated of French and Romanian dramatist Eugene Ionesco's plays, "Rhinoceros" confronts issues of conformity and identity in the wake of World War II.

The play centers on Berenger, a supposedly semi-autobiographical character that Ionesco wrote into many of his plays. Berenger questions his role in the world as everyone in his small French town turns into rhinoceroses. Isolated from the majority, is he a recluse or redeemer? Meanwhile, his best friend, Jean, and his love interest, Daisy, only complicate the confusion.

Brenna Nicely '10, who directed "Rhinoceros" as part of an independent study, said, "It's a lot about identities—searching for yourself and trying to figure out who you are in a world that doesn't make sense."

"It shows how much society is built off of conformity, how everyone plays a certain role and how going against the grain can be both comic and tragic," said Emily Schonberg '10, who plays Daisy. "It's about friendships, logic, common courtesy, love and the fine line between poetic imagination and reality."

Though written in response to the conformist aspects of fascism and other political movements before World War II, "Rhinoceros" still relates to contemporary audiences.

"What a great play does is transcend time a little bit," Nicely said. "It was written in 1959 but if it's dealing with really central themes that are relevant to human experience, then it's really hard for something like that to go out of date."

The universal themes in "Rhinoceros" also transcend its distracting and at times disconcerting, illogical content.

"Even though the play is very abstract, I sometimes forget that when performing," said Schonberg. "It becomes a real situation in which real fears, excitements and dramas arise. Anyone can find moments in this play that they might recognize from their own lives, rhinos or no rhinos."

Because of their unrealistic and exaggerated plotlines, dialogue and characters, Ionesco's plays are usually categorized as absurdist, but according to Nicely, "Absurdism was a tag that was put on after they were written."

Nicely embraced the outrageous opportunities that "absurdism" afforded her in her directorial development.

"This kind of play is very open to interpretation," she said. "When you have a play that calls for rhinoceroses running around and things falling apart, you can do whatever you want."

"It was a creative outlet," Nicely added. "I could try the craziest things with this genre, and that was helpful."

"A lot of each character's development arises out of Brenna pushing our actions into registers more and more absurd," said Schonberg. "It's good, it's smart, it's silly."

The play is ridiculous right down to its construction.

"It's three acts and four scenes," said Nicely. "It's an ongoing joke—it makes no sense."

Nicely jokes now, but she and the cast encountered many challenges along the way.

"There were lots of logistical issues," she said. "Literally, a rhinoceros has to run across the stage—how do you do that? Ceilings have to collapse—how do you do that?"

Nicely answered her questions with the help of her crew, including costume designer Lily Prentice '10.

"We focused less on time period and more on a feeling of the world as a whole," Nicely said of clothing choices. "We went with a lot of bright colors—caricature-type costumes directly related to the characters themselves."

"I had a great sound designer. There are just as many light cues as sound cues, which never happens in a play," Nicely added. "There are really technically difficult things that I think we're pulling off. I couldn't have asked for a better tech crew."

Nicely chose to direct her first full-length play after reading "Rhinoceros" last year.

"It was the first play where after reading the last word I said 'I need to direct this play,'" she said.

Consequently, Nicely applied for an independent study in directorship, but due to the small number of applications by actors, her production was combined with Masque and Gown's.

"They usually tend to keep them separate because of their different philosophies, but I think it turned out for the better," Nicely said.

She described the high level of collaboration as both complicated and rewarding.

Though she said her future is yet to be determined, Nicely's positive experience with "Rhinoceros" has motivated her to apply for another independent study in directing for next semester.

"Rhinoceros" will be performed tonight and Saturday night from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in Wish Theater. Tickets are $1 with a Bowdoin ID and $3 general admission. More information is available at the Smith Union Information Desk.