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Rhinoceros Theater Festival

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This annual showcase of experimental theater, performance, and music runs through 10/31 at Prop Thtr, 3502-4 N. Elston. Rhino Fest is coordinated by the Curious Theatre Branch and features emerging and established artists from Chicago's fringe. Performances take place in Prop's north or south theaters. Admission for most shows is $15 or "pay what you can"; exceptions are noted below. For information and reservations, call 773-267-6660 (except as noted below) or visit www.rhinofest.com. Following is the schedule through 9/29; a complete schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

THURSDAY 22

Racket Sports, Young Children & Late Bloomers Volume 3: The Bunny Pilsbury Suite

M.S. Duffey in his cloying, precious one-act for HalfwayHouse Theater Society strains for Wodehousian whimsy. A seminarian/wannabe economist joins forces with an economist/wannabe novelist at a house party: both have designs on their wealthy young hostess and tangled relationships with her late father (who apparently was not really her father). As directed by James E. Whittington, the performances are deliberately stilted and presentational, with the droll exception of Padraic Connelly as the mournfully understated economist. The work is billed as part of a "massive epic family melodrama farce," but playwright Duffey lacks a firm handle on all these forms' essential qualities. --Kerry Reid a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

Presenting a modern-day nightmare in old-timey dress, William C. Kovacsik's story-theater piece, which includes music and dance, recounts the ordeal of an Indian farmer struggling to reclaim his identity after his unscrupulous brother and corrupt officials conspire to have him declared legally dead in order to seize his land. As Mr. Masra's existential crisis unfolds in this Prop Thtr/Rasaka Theatre Company coproduction, his story turns into an impassioned plea for the dignity of all people disenfranchised by the march toward modernity. This world premiere crackles under Anish Jethmalani's sharp direction. (ZT) a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

FRIDAY 23

R The Book of Grendel

Dan Telfer's play, a world premiere from Theater Oobleck, is inspired by the mythic monster from Beowulf. More than just a facile reversal of the original, with Beowulf as blustering warrior and Grendel as misunderstood misfit, this is a kind of comic-mythic cosmology of evil, exploring questions of time, mortality, and what it means to be God's outcast. Colm O'Reilly is excellent in the title role--part Caliban, part Kramden. (ZT) a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 9/22. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

Into Hermit Country

Hermit Arts' world premiere, written and performed by Jonathan Putman, is a solo piece based on Putman's experiences as a teacher of English in South Korea. Putman seems like a nice enough guy, and his time in Asia was apparently pleasant and without major incident--but that's not much to give an audience. The show is rather low on witty observation and insight. Worse still, Putman's got slides. (ZT) a North theater, 9 PM.

SATURDAY 24

The Hermit in New York

The Still Point Theatre Collective presents Teresa Weed's new play based on the life and work of Trappist monk and radical political essayist Thomas Merton. This placid, overlong, dry-as-dust assemblage of set pieces fails to capture the essence of a man who was both removed from the world and deeply engaged with it; it feels stilted and lifeless in a way that Merton's work never does. (ZT) a South theater, 3 PM.

R Jenny Magnus: A Solo Evening

Jenny Magnus embodies the Walt Whitman line "I am large, I contain multitudes." Using minimal props in her two pieces, What Abandon Meant and Cant, she investigates self-sufficiency, trust, self-sacrifice, and love in its many forms: sexual, filial, maternal. Though she looks like your next-door neighbor, she's able to take on the personas of many people and make them come to life. She also sings well, delivering her powerful lyrics in a heartfelt yet matter-of-fact way. The best aspect of her work is its emotional complexity, as she weaves together many contradictory strands of feeling. (LM) a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 9/22. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

Wide Open Beaver Shot of My Heart, a Comedy With a Body Count

This comic solo piece by Ian Belknap is inspired by an unsolved murder and a suicide. a North theater, 9 PM.

The Fey

Michael Martin's new play, about two boys on the run from one's foul father, is presented by Clove Productions. a North theater, 10:30 PM.

NDetail From the Mountain Side

In this piece talented writer-director Brian Torrey Scott departs from the airless self-consciousness that's marred his earlier efforts. He still displays a penchant for aphoristic dialogue that doesn't always advance plot or allow insight into the characters, but at least he seems to have battled his aversion to giving the story's background and circumstances. A man returns to his hometown and tries to pick up the pieces of his relationships with his best friend, his sister, and a woman who might be a former flame. The songs are occasionally strained--one lyric quotes William James--but Jeff Harms as the protagonist and Donovan Sherman as the friend give solid performances, and Jen Morris's color-saturated slides are lovely. --Kerry Reid a South theater, 10:30 PM.

SUNDAY 25

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 9/22. a South theater, 3 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

N Triad

Matthew Wilson's elliptical noirish play for Hysteria Productions opens with a fantastic scene: two men at a costume party, one dressed as Superman and the other like Sherlock Holmes, engage in a Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse conversation on a high balcony. Turns out that the Holmes impersonator (played by Wilson) is a shrink, Ray, who's treating the former girlfriend of Ken, who may or may not have slashed the woman's face. Ken wants access to Ray's notes on Barbara and tries to blackmail him with information from his past. James G. Berner's staging is too deliberate at points, undercutting the story's underlying tension, and the intentionally vague resolution may frustrate some viewers. But it's an intriguing piece that with more work should realize its full potential. --Kerry Reid a North theater, 7 PM.

N Alphabet Report

Word-drunk writer-performer Barrie Cole is incapable of using language straightforwardly. Even when she's rattling off her lists of tangential associations with letters of the alphabet--the show's opening gambits for her and fellow performer Julie Caffey--Cole's eccentric lists are dizzying. Caffey alternately grounds Cole when she gets too out there and ventures into outer space herself when Cole becomes obsessed, as she sometimes does, with finding the infinite in quotidian specks. Watching this hour-long show is like flipping through a great poet's journal: long stretches of fairly dry material are punctuated by moments of amazing verbal pyrotechnics. --Jack Helbig a South theater, 7 PM.

MONDAY 26

The Family Dogs

Through traditional theater, poetry, and multimedia, The Family Dogs explores the memories of a family. The Halfway House Theatre Society's world premiere is written by Chris Bower. a North theater, 7 PM.

Are You Cool or Are You Uncool? and Olivia

Two world premieres. The first, by Laura Hugg, is a semiautobiographical solo piece about "how a driving, misguided obsession to be detached and unaffected while looking really good in black often leaves one laying in a crumpled, pasty heap on the floor of life." The second, by Rose Buckner, is a one-woman show inspired by Buckner's late grandmother, a woman raised by her tradition-bound family in the bluegrass region of 19th-century Kentucky. a South theater, 7 PM.

WEDNESDAY 28

Eat and . . . Should We Put It Out? (The Smoke)

Two world premieres. The first, by Stephen Mosblech, concerns a woman whose inability to eat leads to her confinement in an asylum. It's produced by Asbestos Theatre Project. The second, by Jayita Bhattacharya, tells of two girls who want to be heroes. a North theater, 7 PM.

Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage

Inspired by an Alice Munro story, this event, coordinated by Beau O'Reilly, features weekly performances of new work. Participating artists include Amy England, Johnny Mars, Melissa Walker, and Dave Snyder. a South theater, 7 PM.

THURSDAY 29

Racket Sports, Young Children & Late Bloomers Volume 3: The Bunny Pilsbury Suite

See listing for Thu 9/22. a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 9/22. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

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