Review: 'Sumatran Rhino'

'Sumatran Rhino' is part nature documentary, part family drama with enough Fringe-y twists and shocking surprises to delight the audience.

This is a difficult show to review without giving away important elements. From the devilishly wicked mind of Mike Hall and Hugo West Productions, Sumatran Rhino is part nature documentary, part family drama with enough Fringe-y twists and shocking surprises to delight the audience. No spoilers here — and if you see it, you should keep quiet, too. However, you should know it’s not for the faint of heart and it’s definitely not family-friendly.

Burgess Byrd plays Quiana and Darnell Pierre Benjamin is Ray. Against the paralleled backdrop of video clips and voiceovers featuring the story of the attempt to save the Sumatran Rhino, the play unfolds. It’s an apocalyptic beginning with some of the best sound effects you’ll experience during the Fringe.

The set is sparse — a loveseat, a coffee table and Greek bobble head. Director Greg Procaccino makes good use of Know Theatre’s mainstage space. He also keeps the action moving, with the exception of one scene where the script begins to get repetitive.

Byrd is one of the city’s most in-demand performers; she’s in two Fringe shows this year. Benjamin, who has shown his versatility onstage lately, is also in two shows. It’s been a successful season of performances for both of them; Sumatran Rhino is a departure from anything they’ve done. They look like they are having fun, despite the show’s uncomfortably dark subject matter. Having played opposite one another more than once, Byrd and Benjamin’s chemistry is engaging and interesting to watch.

It’s Hall’s writing, however, that puts this one over the top. He’s a smart playwright who knows how to surprise an audience in unexpected ways. He also knows how to shock by taking things to the boundary and inching ever so slowly over it. And sometimes he just drops a bomb that takes us all barreling over the line. It’s great unpredictable fun.

Sumatran Rhino is the kind of powerful-punch of comedy, story and weird that you should expect to see at Fringe. I suspect it will be quite popular, and for good reason.


The CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL continues through June 11. Find CityBeat reviews of 41 early performances here. For a full schedule and more info about Fringe, visit cincyfringe.com.

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