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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 this year include John Starrs, Julie Caffey, Michael K. Meyers, Michael Martin, Free Street's MadJoy Theatrics, and other ensembles and soloists. Taking its name from surrealist painter Salvador Dali's use of the term "rhinocerontic" (it means real big), the 13th annual Rhino Fest runs through October 13. Performances take place at the Lunar Cabaret, 2827 N. Lincoln, and at Prop Thtr, 4225 N. Lincoln. Admission is $10 or "pay what you can"; for information and reservations, call 773-327-6666.

Following is the schedule for September 26 through October 3; a complete schedule is available on-line at www.chicagoreader.com.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26

Mazel

"Hardships of unimaginable brutality are illuminated in Karine Koret's Mazel. Based on interviews with her grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, Koret's solo piece pays tribute to the life force. Beau O'Reilly's staging makes inventive use of props, [and] Koret's performance as her grandfather is physically adept and remarkably devoid of bitterness and histrionics....The narrative does get a bit confusing and repetitive....But overall the piece celebrates the ability to endure with love and courage--and, of course, luck--and gives dignity and warmth to the vanishing generation of Holocaust survivors," says Reader critic Kerry Reid. Prop Thtr, 7 PM.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

Stalking Spalding Gray

This piece, written and performed by Steven Schwarz, is based on real and imagined confrontations between Schwarz and superstar monologuist Spalding Gray. "[In] this hilarious mix of parody, homage, and autobiography [Schwarz] recounts the process of [his] disillusionment [with Gray]. Performed in the classic Gray style--Schwarz sits behind a nearly bare table, pitcher of water at hand, notebook open before him, small visual aid nearby--Stalking Spalding Gray is at once a fan's diary... and a long, Spalding-esque, tragicomic account of Schwarz's automobile accident during the 2001 Toronto film festival, an event that woke him up to his own life. Schwarz isn't nearly as polished a performer as Gray--he fidgets, sometimes stutters, speaks too quickly or too slowly--but...he loves wringing laughs out of the pathetic realization that he'll never be as at ease onstage as his idol. On the other hand, as long as he has a story worth telling, it doesn't matter. In an age when we're encouraged to believe that our own lives are less valuable than the lives of celebrities, Schwarz's comical tale of self-discovery is definitely worth telling," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

Small Potatoes

Scott Vehill directs Paul Espel's play about two men trying to save the small town they ended up in by mistake. Prop Thtr, 7 PM.

The Very Long Kiss

Go Cougars! Theater Company presents Joe Meno's play about a widower's second chance at love. Lunar Cabaret, 9 PM.

One Two Three Four Five

"The life cycle of romance is put under the microscope in Brian Torrey Scott's wistful [piece], which tangentially uses the laws of thermodynamics as metaphors for love, embodied in two couples played by the same actors....The playwright's simple, deft staging...aids his funny, poignant look at the hardships of the heart," says Reader critic Kerry Reid. Prop Thtr, 9 PM.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28

Discovery Tales

The Curious Theatre Branch performs a quartet of stories by Bryn Magnus under Ron Bieganski's direction. "Magnus's writing explodes with adventurous wordplay and riveting imagery," said Reader critic Justin Hayford when he reviewed these pieces as part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company's "Love & Sin: A Solo Experience" earlier this year. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

The Mindtick and Midwestern Love Song

The Mindtick, written by Nicole Kupper and directed by Jennifer Huffman, explores the world of a nuclear family. Midwestern Love Song, an adaptation of a poem by Jimmie Cumbie, is directed by Pauline Fatyga. Prop Thtr, 7 PM.

Truck in Pieces

"Notwithstanding its central character's mantra--'I'm not going anywhere; where'm I gonna go?'--Beau O'Reilly's new play tells the story of a journey. O'Reilly's Bloom, like Joyce's before him, spends a long day traveling on the fringes of the urban landscape as he struggles to square his memories with the present. And though every detail resonates with Ulysses, the play also stands on its own as a character study of 'Truck' Bloom, a never-was boxer in midcentury Chicago. Between efforts to reconcile with his ex-wife, bail out his son, and protect some puppies, this mensch masquerading as a thug (O'Reilly himself in a perfect performance that earns sympathy without ever begging for it) relives encounters with his father, his 'jag-off' brother, and Joey Buzz, a hero of his youth. These three, and many others, are played by the spectacular Guy Massey, whose ability to create a whole new character out of a slight shift in stance makes costume changes almost superfluous. Likewise, he gives boxing such a homoerotic charge that the play's explicitly gay encounter seems unnecessary. Despite a few such wrong turns, Truck in Pieces portrays the search for redemption with great warmth and depth," said Reader critic Kelly Kleiman of this Curious Theatre Branch production during its run earlier this year. Lunar Cabaret, 9 PM.

Underwater Football

See Critic's Choice. Prop Thtr, 9 PM.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 29

I Can't Remember Any Kids' Names on That Trip to Go Drinking in Lake Geneva, Rawkus Down, and Super-Learning With George

This triple bill begins with a monologue by poet John Starrs about high school high jinks. "Starrs's persona is [that of] a likable guy whose aging brain works in unexpected ways. [His] tale of teenage chicanery--copping fake IDs from a friend, then heading up to Wisconsin for a marathon of drinking--is unadorned. He never bothers with literary flourishes or symbolism.... Starrs writes the way most of us think.... This is what gives his work its richness, reminding us that the most ordinary events extend in all directions and across time," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Johnny Mars's Rawkus Down is described in festival publicity materials as "a tale about sleaze, greed, and a few good tunes." Says Hayford: "[This] self-consciously simple story [is] like a children's fairy tale, [and] Mars reads his text with all the care and fire of a concert pianist playing a concerto." Super-Learning With George, written and performed by Robin Cline and presented by Theater of the Catbird, imagines an educational seminar by former heavyweight champion George Foreman.

"Cline has some difficulty navigating her complicated text. [Her] writing is alluring,

but...she reads with little conviction.... The result is a flat, nearly incomprehensible piece," says Hayford. Lunar Cabaret, 3 PM.

Interviewing the Dead, a Fictional Autobiography

Veteran performance artist Michael K. Meyers presents this tale of a man seeking communion with his dead father. "Onstage Meyers's beguiling mix of east-coast cool and midwest gawkiness perfectly embodies his literary style, which artfully combines aloof sophistication and wide-eyed wonder....Interviewing the Dead achieves this delicate balance with more finesse, humor, and psychological depth than anything he's written in recent years. In Meyers's trademark fashion, dreamlike elements creep in almost unnoticed, transforming a quaint, quirky episode of marital malaise into a hallucinogenic romp through Judgment Day....For all its fantastic elements, Interviewing the Dead is deeply poignant, astutely capturing the psychology of inertia," says Reader critic Justin Hayford. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

Skeptics

Free Street's MadJoy Theatrics (formerly known as TeenStreet) presents an ensemble-created multimedia piece concerning high school students curious about the meaning of life and death. Ron Bieganski directs the script the actors wrote under the guidance of Bryn Magnus and Bieganski. "'Dangerous' is the operative word in this sense-assaulting multimedia performance--though the word's meaning pitches back and forth throughout the production like a ship caught in a violent storm. 'I got dangerously close to learning something' is the mantra repeated by each of the eight teenage performers in Skeptics--and the danger zone seems to be the American educational system. Ironically, the less structure these high school-age characters have, the more education they get--and learning is the ultimate tool for self-actualization, a fact underscored by a recurring image of the actors studiously reading from the stacks of books resting on either side of the stage. But from the moment they enter a school's labyrinthine hallways, all the usual adolescent concerns--from suicidal impulses to the questioning of our earthly purpose--start creeping out of the woodwork to threaten them. [This] is mind-bending multifaceted theater that tackles the great leap from adolescence to adulthood with jaw-dropping sophistication and courage," said Reader critic Nick Green when he reviewed the show's earlier run at Free Street. Prop Thtr, 7 PM.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 30

Verses.

The Hermit Theater presents Idris Goodwin's play about two black men whose longtime friendship is altered when one seeks to be more like the other. "Verses....marks the playwright-director as a talent to watch.... Goodwin's script touches on intriguing issues, such as whether one's acts are determined by personal integrity or self-sabotage. But the play lacks a satisfying conclusion.... Still, Goodwin has a well-honed sense for dialogue, and despite some awkward transitions, the actors give honest, gritty performances," says Reader critic Kerry Reid. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

The Mindtick and Midwestern Love Song

See listing for Saturday, September 28. Prop Thtr, 7 PM.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 1

New Antarctica, A Babel Fish for Charlie Brown's Mom, and Tales From the Crib

The first piece on this triple bill, written and directed by Dan Telfer, involves a man fighting his gregarious alter ego. "Telfer's funny, poignant New Antarctica explores daydreams as self-imposed exile," said Reader critic Kerry Reid when she reviewed the show as part of Flush Puppy Productions' "Night Visions" last year. Rory Jobst's A Babel Fish for Charlie Brown's Mom concerns a 1970s video game pioneer; Tales From the Crib, by Laurel Haines, examines the darker side of family life. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 2

Hangtown

A history professor returns to the small western hometown she abandoned after high school in Heidi Broadhead's play. "Broadhead's script is constructed on several levels: the characters speak of doing 'scenes' or don professorial spectacles to address us from an imaginary downstage podium....This many conceits could easily become chaotic, but Ned O'Reilly's dexterous direction quickly dispels the initial...confusion, establishing characters and their eras despite a uniformly youthful cast," says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 3

Deep Listening

This one-woman play, written by Teresa Weed and performed by Lisa Wagner, examines the experiences of dying patients and their caregivers. "Weed is a writer of enormous promise with a knack for boiling down complicated truths to exquisite nuggets of prose....But about halfway through the piece [she] loses direction and begins taking the audience on a ghoulish tour, mercilessly piling on scene after scene of suffering. The struggle to find a meaningful path into death all but disappears. It doesn't help that... Wagner lunges with disturbing gusto into the most macabre moments," says Reader critic Justin Hayford of this Still Point Theater Collective production. Lunar Cabaret, 7 PM.

Mazel

See listing for Thursday, September 26. Prop Thtr, 7 PM.

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