I had the good fortune to see an excellent production of The Lesson about a month ago at Tulane University, and it got me set up for an Ionesco binge. I read The Bald Soprano, Rhinoceros, watched the Zero Mostel/Gene Wilder adaptation of the latter, and read several of his essays in Notes and Counter Notes.
The movie I found a bit disappointing. It was “Americanized” into messy slapstick, and a lot of funny lines were cut in favor of scenery chewing. I think both actors would have been reasonable choices for the role with a different director though a pairing of John Cleese as Jean with Peter Sellars as Berenger would have been pretty amazing. (Laurence Olivier played Berenger in the London opening, which I’m having trouble imagining.)
It’s also rather amusing to consider that Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Rhinoceros are about the same thing, i.e., getting lost in a movement that sweeps away the individual. They were only written six years apart (Ionesco’s play is the later), yet stylistically they’re radically different. Oddly, Ionesco is referring back in time a little farther (the Nazis) where as Miller is literally writing about current events. The Crucible was published in 1953, and it wasn’t until 1954 when McCarthy was exposed for the nasty bully he was.