An institution in spite of its funky self, the 22-year-old Rhinceros Theater Festival got some rare competition last fall when the Chicago Fringe Festival made its debut. Don't expect a slugfest of the fests, though. The two should be able to coexist nicely, inasmuch as the CFF is designed to draw talent from all over while Rhino is studiously Chicagocentric, concentrating on work by the city's own fringe performance community. Some anticipated highlights of the monthlong event:
Curious Theatre Branch, which curates RhinoFest, also helps kick it off this year with 4:48 PSYCHOSIS (Fri 1/14-2/11, 7 PM), the last play written by British In-Yer-Face movement icon Sarah Kane before her suicide in 1999. ALL THAT FALL is a rarely performed stage version of a Samuel Beckett radio play; Curious pairs it here with Matt Rieger's The Flowers Are Dead (Sat 1/15 and Sun 1/16, 7 PM). DEJA LINKS (Fri 1/21-2/11, 9 PM) reunites a bunch of the performance artists—including Cheryl Trykv, Andy Soma, Robert Metrick, and, by Skype, Brendan deVallance—who made Chicago's Lower Links a cutting-edge venue during the 1980s and '90s. Barrie Cole's FRUIT TREE BACKPACK (Sat 1/15, 7 PM, Mon 1/17-2/7, 9 PM) comprises three short plays about a doomed relationship. Reader critic Justin Hayford called an earlier version "psychologically probing."
Found Objects Theater Group presents two tales of desperation: Chris Bower's MASCOT and DR. HUCKLEBERRY PERSIMMON EXPLAINS VERY LITTLE FOR YOU! by Mark Chrisler, the Reader's pick for Best Emerging Playwright of 2009 (Sat 1/15-2/12, 9 PM). Bruised Orange Theater Company offers POVERTY: THE MUSICAL (Fri 1/14-2/11, 9 PM), in which Daniel and Sylvia go from "upper-middle class to destitute in the blink of an eye." Too depressing? Enjoy the spectacle of writers competing for audience votes in WRITE CLUB (Sat 2/5-2/12, 9 PM), hosted by Ian Belknap.
A musical fund-raiser, FULL MOON VAUDEVILLE (Fri 1/14, 9 PM), is part of the opening-night festivities, and CLOSING NIGHT VAUDEVILLE (Sun 2/13, 9 PM) finishes things off for the year. Check the Rhino website for more, including workshops. Opens 1/14. Through 2/13: Thu-Fri and Mon 7 and 9 PM, Sat 3, 7, 9, and 11 PM, Sun 3 and 7 PM, Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston, 773-508-0666, rhinofest.com, $12 in advance online, $15 or pay what you can at the door. —Tony Adler and John V. Santore