Theater Oobleck turned 25 in 2013, and so did the Neo-Futurists' signature show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Now Curious Theatre Branch's Rhinoceros Theater Festival is celebrating its silver anniversary, too. Time for essays on the graying of the Chicago fringe? Well, it would be if Oobleck, TMLMTBGB, and Rhinofest hadn't managed to pull younger artists—some of them much, much younger—into their unconventional orbits.
For instance: the 42 shows and events that constitute this year's Rhinofest include a children's ensemble called Pigeons With Teeth, presenting East of the Sun, West of the Moon (2/8-2/15: Sat 2 PM) in a tongue-in-cheek adaptation written by none other than Reader critic Jack Helbig. In Let's Copy Each Other So We Can Be Copy Cats (1/18-2/1: Sat 2 PM), Jessica Peri Chalmers directs three 11- and 12-year-olds in a musical based on the "words and ideas" of four- and six-year-olds.
Just one generation up the line from the performing preteens are accomplished fringe artists like Mark Chrisler—who contributes a solo, Phonies, Frauds, and Fakes (Sat 1/18, 9 PM, Sat 2/8-2/15 and Sun 1/19, 7 PM), that he insists is not about his ex-girlfriend—and Barrie Cole, whose Elevator Tours (1/18-2/15: Sat 9 PM) is a two-hander whose two hands, here, belong to the exceptional Chicago actors Carolyn Hoerdemann and Colm O'Reilly.
The Ruckus has gathered seven playwrights for Tell It & Speak It & Think It & Breathe It (1/18-2/15: Sat 7 PM), a compilation of short plays based on lyrics by the likes of Neil Young and Neko Case. Described as "[l]ess a comedy of errors than a tragedy of everything going exactly right," the Side Project's The Dangling Conversation (1/17-2/14: Fri 9 PM) is also doled out in vignettes—a single playwright this time, but four directors. Astonrep Theatre Company submits an odd-bedfellows pairing of the very early, very Pinteresque Harold Pinter play The Dumb Waiter with In the Moment by local writer Jeff Helgeson (1/17-2/14: Fri 7 PM, no show 1/24). The elite storytellers of Boygirlboygirl offer a selection of their greatest hits in Cremes and Jellies (1/18-2/1: Sat 7 PM). And the Conspirators Theatre Company reaches back to the 17th century for Loa to Divine Narcissus, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz's tale of Christianity, women, and the New World. It shares the bill with Josh Nordmark's Falling, in which a pair of conquistadors talk things over while tumbling off the edge of the world (Sun 2/2, 5 PM, Mon 2/3, 6 PM).
None of the above companies were even so much as a gleam in the eye of the first Rhinofest. But this year's six-week event culminates in a tribute to Jenny Magnus, who was not only present at the creation but did a fair amount of the creating. To celebrate the publication of a new collection of her plays, various groups—including Curious itself—are staging seven Magnus opuses, to be performed during the fest's final days (2/20-2/23). For details on the tribute, called "Magnus in Play," as well as the many entries I'm unable to mention here, go to rhinofest.com.