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Rhinoceros Theater Festival

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This ambitious showcase of experimental theater, performance, and music from Chicago's fringe began as part of the Bucktown Arts Fest. Now it's produced by the Curious Theatre Branch; in addition to the Curious folks, participating artists include Theater Oobleck, Jennifer Biddle LaFleur, Michael Meyers, Nomenil, Barrie Cole, Blair Thomas, and many other ensembles and soloists. Taking its name from surrealist painter Salvador Dali's use of the term "rhinocerontic" (it means real big), the 12th annual Rhinofest runs through October 7. The following lists this week's shows. Performances take place at the Lunar Cabaret, 2827 N. Lincoln; the Free Street space at Pulaski Park, 1419 W. Blackhawk; and Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield. Admission is $10 or "pay what you can"; for information and reservations, call 773-327-6666.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20

The Hunchback Variations and Tedium

Chicago's experimental, directorless Theater Oobleck presents a double bill. The first depicts a panel discussion on sound between the deaf bell ringer of Notre Dame cathedral, Quasimodo, and the hearing-impaired composer Beethoven. "[The] piece begins as a postmodern parody of academic conferences and ends as a moving meditation on collaboration and the creative process," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. The second is a puppet play, created by playwright Mickle Maher and puppet designer Shoshanna Utchenik, about a small theater company whose terrible show turns into a surprise hit. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 21

The Hunchback Variations and Tedium

See listing for Thursday, September 20. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

Drowning of Thirst

Matthew Wilson directs his own script about a young psychic's impact on a group of dysfunctional friends. The play "brandishes emptiness and disconnection at every turn, but in such a sketchily ponderous fashion that the void it maps seems to correspond solely to another in Wilson's imagination. . . . I'd wager that this collection of tissue-paper silhouettes is meant to represent a generation's

alienation and emotional underdevelopment. . . . Then again, it may just be about an insufferable bunch of losers. In any case, Drowning of Thirst is underwritten, unconvincing, overlong, and trite.

And . . . the slight staging merely emphasizes the play's flimsiness," says Reader critic Brian Nemtusak. Pulaski Park, 7 PM.

Going

Peter Handler's new dark comedy concerns two hucksters who hawk elaborate convenience services to car-bound motorists. The absurdist script's "furious, fiendishly clever dialogue bears the marks of Stoppard and Albee, and [anyone] who's spent any time in LA traffic . . . will recognize Handler's premise, blown up to ridiculous proportions: that no driver ever reaches his or her destination. Life as lived in a box on wheels becomes a metaphor for the alienation produced by technology. . . . In Amy Ludwig's crisp staging the actors give capable, engaging performances," says Reader critic Brian Nemtusak. Lunar Cabaret, 9 PM.

#36 Buster Keaton and the Buddha

Puppeteer Blair Thomas and composer Michael Zerang pooled their talents for the story of one man's spiritual journey. The multimedia production, which employs clips from Buster Keaton's movies, is "sweet but enlightening,"

says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Pulaski Park, 9 PM.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

Bantam Lightweight

This play by writer-director Shawn Reddy concerns two aging men preparing to entertain a gathering of old friends. Beau and Ned O'Reilly star in this Curious Theatre Branch production. "Reddy . . . has crafted a small gem--a funny, gently moving existential drama. The O'Reillys . . . make what's essentially 90 minutes of idle rumination accessible, engrossing, and often delightful," says Reader critic Brian Nemtusak. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

Two Odd: Covic & Schein

This program of "theater riffs and bass narratives" features David Schein performing Adrenalin, a monologue about a man in a doctor's waiting room. The evening also features "Off the Deep End," a musical tribute to Nelson Mandela by bassist-composer Mitch Covic. Pulaski Park, 7 PM.

To Relax and Laugh

"When you consider that understanding what makes humans tick is an impossible goal, writer Barrie Cole's progress on this question is nothing short of awe inspiring. What's characterized her work to date, besides simple hard-nosed obstinacy, is the way she revels in the English language, juxtaposing words as both a performer and a playwright to evoke double meanings and the contradictions inherent in daily existence. The manipulation of language remains the centerpiece of . . . To Relax and Laugh, [which] explores slowly but surely a therapist-client relationship that devolves into a series of social calls. Time has somewhat muted Cole's righteous indignation: traces of her cynicism seep through the cracks of this piece, but it occupies a more intimate, comfortable space than most of her earlier work, if only because of the warmth of Julie Caffey's and Laura Hugg's finely etched performances. . . . What Cole ultimately inspires here is audience exhaustion, not boredom--and it takes a playwright of no small resources to walk that fine line," says Reader critic Nick Green. Lunar Cabaret, 9 PM.

#36 Buster Keaton and the Buddha

See listing for Friday, September 21. Pulaski Park, 9 PM.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 23

Feeling Sorry for Roman Polanski

A singing-telegram-company employee and his movie-fan wife "bump up against the limits of unconditional love" in this comedy by Sue Cargill. Anna C. Bahow directs. "Cargill . . . does well at drawing parallels between Polanski's oeuvre and the feverish dreams and paranoid delusions of her characters. . . . Both are trapped in downward spirals, but there's no true depth to them in this 50-minute piece. And the play's ending . . . couldn't be a bigger cop-out," says Reader critic Nick Green. Lunar Cabaret, 3 PM.

Ragman

Michael K. Meyers's new work interweaves four narratives about people drawn together six months after John Lennon's murder, on the day Yoko Ono addresses her late husband's mourners in Central Park. "Meyers . . . made a neophyte's mistake when he decided to both direct and star in Ragman. [This] rich, well-written piece . . . depends utterly on a strong narrator to pull the fragments together, but Meyers reads his own words in a mumbled, whining drone. The supporting ensemble of four fare somewhat better, though everyone seems underrehearsed," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24

Two Fools Gold

Paul Amandes's musical, performed

in a reading, concerns the adventures of four pals who strike gold. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 25

The Green Cricket and Braising

The first show on this double bill is Nicole Kupper's comedy (directed by Cat Gleason) about a green cricket and a group of barflies dining together on Italian cuisine; the second (directed by Stefan Brun) is a dark comedy by Idris Goodwin about two thieves and their relationship in the aftermath of a botched heist. "I thank the gods of

theater that the Rhinoceros Theater Festival opens its stages to untried authors, because every once in a while a first-time playwright like Idris Goodwin comes along. From the first words of Braising, he shows he knows what he's doing. The premise is deceptively simple: two romantically entwined would-be bank robbers must find a new way to live when the woman is crippled by a stray bullet during a thwarted robbery. This verbally rich 90-minute play . . . is filled with crisp dialogue, [but] Goodwin never seems dazzled by his own wit. Rather he focuses on creating multifaceted, constantly surprising characters," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. But The Green Cricket is a "confusing,

undramatic . . . series of odd, flat, barely connected scenes about a real or imagined trip. Full of pointless dialogue and characters half realized at best, this 90-minute play offers precious little adventure," says Helbig. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26

The Bubonic Homunculus

See review in section one. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

The Hunchback Variations and Tedium

See listing for Thursday, September 20. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

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