For two years now I've been giving the producers of the Rhinoceros Theater Festival a hard time over whether they can legitimately call their curated event a fringe fest. Last week I even offered them an alternate term, "tribal convocation," which I consider more accurate and even kind of sweet. Will they use it? They have my permission.
For all that, the 2017 Rhinofest proceeds through February 26 with a distinctly fringey air. The 14 entries I've seen vary widely in scope, style, subject matter, creativity, eccentricity, and, yes, quality. Also, practically all of them involve Chicago-based artists, which makes the fest a good place to find out who's who and what might be next. My first report covered seven shows worth talking about. Here are some more:
The best of this batch is Best of "The Bowman Brothers Radio Hour" (Fri 7 PM), an odd, loose, funny variation on the live-radio-style theatrical format. The Bowmans (Mitch Salm and Brian Byrne) stand at a single microphone and narrate scenes from the exquisitely hapless life of a schlemiel named Jonathan. We meet his impatient wife, crass in-laws, manipulative therapist, and outperforming colleague, all of whom seem bent on confirming his growing sense that he's "nothing." Jonathan looks for a new job only to find his current one posted as available, lets a waitress eat from his plate, has an epiphany nobody wants to hear about. Perhaps worst of all, Salm and Byrne switch off playing him, as if not even they acknowledge his being. It's contemporary Kafka, played for laughs.
Adam Webster's Footnotes for an Apology (Sat 5 PM) comprises ten brief mono- and duologues on subjects ranging from anguish (a woman angrily refutes the idea that she's beautiful) to acceptance (a divorced couple re-bond by phone). Some of the ten feel fragmentary: speeches from as yet unwritten plays. But several convey a quiet, everyday grace.
Like the antibeauty character in Footnotes, Eileen Tull obsesses over body image and failed intimacy. In Bad Dates, or What Killed That Monkey in Indiana Jones Only Makes Me Stronger (Thu 9 PM) she uses her unnatural attachment to Harrison Ford as cover for some fairly retrograde—i.e., pre-Amy Schumer—loser-woman comedy. What saves the evening is Tull's easy style, candor, and apparently encyclopedic knowledge of Ford's filmography.
Ending on a down note, Penultimate Mohicans' .44 Cromagnum (Wed 9 PM) aims to be a Platonic disquisition on the relative value of brain vs. brawn vs. skill but misses badly thanks to intellectual cutesiness and a perfect lack of momentum. A bleak, didactic take on ballet training (picture Edward Gorey sans humor), Organic Theater's Mine-Haha, or On the Bodily Education of Young Girls (Thu 7 PM) fails to communicate anything richer than its own indignation. v