The audience will be seated on stage for updated version of Eugene Ionesco's 1959 play, 'Rhinoceros'

What’s going on these days at the College of the Siskiyous Theater Department? Well, two attractive young women are playing two not-so-attractive young men in a modern version of Eugene Ionesco’s 1959 play “Rhinoceros,” and the audience will be seated right on the stage, right next to the action.

And that’s just for starters. When the play really gets going, creatures with rhinoceros horns will be stomping around the stage, but they’ll also be wearing “Make America Great” hats and sporting bad hair.

Welcome to an updated version of Ionesco’s play. He was attacking the mass movement spawned by Nazism before World War II, but the COS students obviously have more contemporary targets in mind. (This is a completely student-run production, with a student director, Isaiah Olson, who selected the play after he read an article about it in the New York Times shortly after the election.)

The play’s central character is a deeply flawed man named Berenger, played by Mikala Thompson. It’s set in a small town in France.

Berenger is an alcoholic, a minor clerk in a law office who has little ambition to improve his situation. But, with all his flaws, he remains the last man standing, the last one to hold out against rampaging rhino-ism while everyone else around him begins sporting horns and bad hair.

With all his flaws, Berenger remains true to himself and refuses to conform. In some ways that makes a more positive statement about the human spirit, with all its strengths and weaknesses, than if Berenger were some sort of super hero.

“We’re using the art of theater to create a voice of awareness, a commentary on our perilous times,” says Rienna Renae, who plays Berenger’s best friend Jean.

Thompson, whose last role was the Wicked Witch Of The West in the “Wizard Of Oz,” now finds herself trying to walk and talk like a man. “It’s a bit of a stretch for me, but I’m starting to feel comfortable with it,” she told me during rehearsals.

When you take your seat onstage, be prepared for some up-close chaos and political commentary in the guise of drama. As Olson puts it, “We are using this opportunity as students and artists not to simply shout, but to speak for our valued beliefs through the medium of entertainment.”

“Rhinoceros” plays at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25, March 3 and 4; and at 3 p.m. Feb. 26 and March 5. Tickets are $15 general, $10 students and seniors.

For more information call 938-5373 or go to