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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 and 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 10/27; a complete schedule is available at www.chicagoreader.com.

THURSDAY 20

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

The Halfway House Theater Society's cloying, precious one-act, a world premiere by M.S. Duffey, strains for Wodehousian whimsy. A seminarian/wannabe economist joins forces with an economist/wannabe novelist at the home of a wealthy young woman on whom both have designs, despite their 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. (KR) 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 21

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 10/20. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

The Lasts

The Magpies present an "ornithological romance" by writer-performer Robin Cline and director-designer Shawn Reddy about the death of the last passenger pigeon in captivity, who passed away two years after its mate, the last male passenger pigeon. a North theater, 9 PM.

SATURDAY 22

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 North theater, 3 PM.

The Lasts

See listing for Fri 10/21. a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 10/20. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

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

A subtle, wearying darkness has always lurked beneath Ian Belknap's droll, literary comic monologues, and in his new solo piece he looks that darkness square in the face. Twenty years ago his adored grandfather was murdered, and not long afterward his 40-year-old alcoholic father killed himself. Sitting behind a table, he reads his preliminary, eviscerating musings on the subject, ever mindful of the self-destructive genes he's inherited. The hour-long performance is biting, hilarious, agonizing, self-deprecating, ennobling, and human in its conclusion. (JHa) a North theater, 9 PM.

Detail From the Mountain Side

This world premiere by talented writer-director Brian Torrey Scott departs from the airless self-consciousness that's marred his earlier efforts. Scott 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, but Jeff Harms and Donovan Sherman give solid performances, and Jen Morris's color-saturated slides are lovely. (KR) a North theater, 10:30 PM.

R Mary Shelley and Her Monsters

The Upstart Theatre Group's world premiere enacts episodes from the life of writer Mary Shelley as well as popular images of her most famous creation, Frankenstein's Creature. Straightforward biography alternates with passages from the novel illustrated with music, dance, and tableaux to convey the story's deeper resonance, reflecting Shelley's experiences among the most notorious freethinkers of the romantic age. The spectacle leans toward the abstract, but the intriguing parallels between the writer's life and her fiction are realized with enough coherence, grace, and imagination to be persuasive. (MSB) a South theater, 10:30 PM.

SUNDAY 23

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 10/20. a South theater, 3 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

Triad

Hysteria Productions presents Matthew Wilson's elliptical, noirish new play, about a therapist who is blackmailed for confidential information on a disfigured patient. 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. (KR) a North theater, 7 PM.

Alphabet Report

Julie Caffey and Barrie Cole present the third installment in their exploration of the alphabet as the inspiration for "ruminations on things minuscule, mammoth, and everything in between." Every performance is semi-improvised. Cole's eccentric lists are dizzying, but 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. (JHe) a South theater, 7 PM.

MONDAY 24

The Reason . . .

Part panel discussion and part performance, this event features writers, actors, directors, and musicians discussing why they do what they do. Moderator Idris Goodwin is joined by panelists including Beau O'Reilly and Jenny Magnus. a North theater, 7 PM.

Almost a Kentucky Belle and Are You Cool or Are You Uncool?

Two world premieres. The first, 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. Almost a Kentucky Belle begins as an engaging portrait of its subject but ends as an enervating summary of her life. Also on the bill is Laura Hugg's stiff Are You Cool or Are You Uncool?, 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." (JV) a South theater, 7 PM.

THURSDAY 27

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 10/20. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; industry show; reservations at 773-539-7838.

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