Rhinofest, Curious Theatre Branch's fringe theater festival, continues through Sunday, February 28, at Prop Theatr (3502 N. Elston). Now in its 27th year, the fest has departed from its usual anything-goes format; instead, participants were invited to create work inspired by Eugène Ionesco's absurdist classic Rhinoceros, one of the three plays reviewed this week. For more reviews, see Reader senior theater critic Tony Adler's Rhino roundup. For a complete schedule, see rhinofest.com.
A theatergoer should be wary of a play that announces in the program that it is "performed without an intermission. Or much of a play, for that matter." And, indeed, there isn't much of a play in Hippopotamus, Adam Webster's tribute to Eugène Ionesco, honoree of this year's Rhinofest, though it does contain bits from The Leader, Maid to Marry, and Improvisation. Instead, Hippopotamus, presented by the Side Project, is about the creative process itself. At least, I think it is. Ionesco (played by Ted Hoerl, the best actor in the cast) is on deadline and struggling with writer's block when he gets caught in a nightmare of modern scientific critical theory, represented by three professors all named Bartholomeus. Chaos ensues. Whether it's funny probably depends on how well you know your Ionesco. (Fri 9 PM) —Aimee Levitt
Meaning Is Tricky
I am sorry to say there are no rhinoceroses in Barrie Cole's Rhinofest two-hander. There are, however, hippos, a dale of them, running together across the African savanna, and a man who dresses up for a party in a homemade hippo costume. Sadly, both these things take place offstage. Instead, we get to see a series of conversations between Clare (Diana Slickman) and Mark (Darren Stephens), two middle-aged former fuck buddies turned platonic roommates who obsessively analyze every text message and interaction in Clare's new relationship with a couple in an open marriage. But what does it all really mean? And, once the conversation moves beyond amusing observation and wordplay and turns belabored, who really cares anymore? Such is modern life. Let's all let out an Ionescan cry of despair. (Fri 7 PM) —Aimee Levitt
Joining the herd, literally and metaphorically, is the subject of this absurdist literary masterpiece by Romanian-French playwright Eugène Ionesco, who thought his plays weren’t the absurd thing—life was. However you feel about life, it would be odd, you'll admit, if all your friends morphed into a species of odd-toed ungulate and went storming through town together. But that's what happens to Berenger (T-Roy Martin), and even repeated pulls at his brandy bottle can’t convince him otherwise. Instead, he has to grapple with whether to become a brute and run with the crowd or retain his humanity and be left all alone. Julia Williams registers a set of fine performances, and the acting in general is good (the cast are all members of Curious), but the pace is slow in this production, directed by festival cofounder Beau O'Reilly. And alas, a couple of the cast members are simply too smart and wonderful for their lowly roles. The memorable rhino paintings are by Sue Cargill. (Sat-Sun 7 PM) —Max Maller