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Rhoneceros Theater Festival

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The Curious Theatre Branch's ambitious yearly showcase of experimental theater, performance, and music from Chicago's fringe began as part of the Bucktown Arts Fest. Over the years it's mushroomed from a neighborhood happening to an event of citywide significance--especially now that it's been taken under the wing of the Department of Cultural Affairs as part of a laudable effort to bring an off-off-Loop sensibility to Chicago's downtown theater district.

Taking its name from surrealist painter Salvador Dali's use of the term "rhinocerontic" (it means real big), the 14th annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival runs through October 26. Performances take place at the Curious Theatre Branch, 7001 N. Glenwood; No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood; and the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. Admission is $12 or "pay what you can"; for information and reservations, call 773-274-6660.

Following is the schedule through October 23; a complete schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16

Love Pollution: A Tekno-Popera

The Nomenil theater group performs Allen Conkle, Courtney Evans, and Christopher Powers's musical spoof. "The whole world is ugly in [this] campy, confusing Rocky Horror-meets-Pinocchio musical, where everyone wears rainbow-colored wigs. Scientists have taken over the growing of lawns and the shining of the sun while Mother Nature...has decided to destroy humanity using a supervirus, presented in charming red boxes. A gang of punk rockers tries to keep humans alive by spreading 'love pollution'--simple kindness and consideration. And [a] scientist...has created the perfect plastic couple to repopulate the world once Mother Nature has done her dirty work....Powers's techno-pop music is passable, but the uncredited lyrics fall flat, and the singing is usually wince inducing. Overall... Conkle and...Evans's story, directed by Conkle, is crass and cruel, so confusing its good-versus-evil theme that we're unsure whose side we're on," says Reader critic Jennifer Vanasco. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17

Sidewalk Etiquette

Idris Goodwin's "humorous ensemble drama," set in a blue-collar neighborhood in a midwestern city, is performed by the Hermit theater group. "Sidewalk Etiquette...strives toward a gritty sort of reality with its population of street people, small-time merchants, rappers, and drifters. Although it affects one or two mildly surreal contrivances, this tale of yuppie gentrification run amok is sincere urban portraiture with a social point to make. Trouble is, that social point is undercut by Goodwin's timid narrative," says Reader critic Tony Adler. Curious Theatre Branch, 7 PM.

The Dogs of Love

Beau O'Reilly performs three of his stories. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.

The Jazzterpiece

Barrie Cole, whose writing is known for its experimental approach to language, penned this "play about jazz, loss, yoga, and the delusions of creativity." Joe Huppert directs. "Where all too many [artists] pummel their audiences with alienating stylistic innovations,...Cole plays with her medium to draw her audience closer.... Her latest play...is...at once serious and playful, formally challenging and emotionally persuasive. Three wounded urbanites--a woman who has an emotional breakdown in yoga class, her emotionally distant jazz-fanatic significant other, and an unemployed, burned-out anthropologist--come together when the anthropologist and the S.O. become obsessed with making the jazz mix tape of all time, their 'jazzterpiece.' But what makes Cole's script remarkable is not the narrative; it's how well she utilizes her usual performance strategies: long, digressive monologues; quirky songs; and outrageous stage pictures," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. No Exit Cafe, 7:30 PM.

My Name Is Mudd

This Curious Theatre Branch production, written and directed by Shawn Prakash Reddy, takes aim at Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth's murder of Abraham Lincoln. "Questions about historiography undergird...Reddy's formulation of the events surrounding...Lincoln's assassination. And for many playwrights, the postmodern hall of mirrors created by asking slippery questions about authority and knowledge would be enough. But Reddy, who also directs, clearly wants to tease, entertain, and provoke....Toward that end he's fabricated a two-hour work, played by himself and five other actors, that's both a lecture and a sketch-comedy revue, a historical reenactment and a send-up of reenactments. The resulting show should have been daring and hilarious and intellectually breathtaking. But the night I caught My Name Is Mudd, the comedy often seemed forced, the insights sophomoric, and the writing sloppy and in need of a good edit. These problems might have been the result of uneven performances," says Reader critic Jack Helbig. Curious Theatre Branch, 9 PM.

Pity Sex

Sweetback Productions presents a partly improvised performance by Jillian Erickson and Michael Martin, who offer "untamed, raw, sweaty blather" about the news of the day. No Exit Cafe, 9:30 PM.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18

The Rat Bush: A California Gothic

Paula Gilovich's dark comedy concerns a young woman who returns to California to visit her family. Curious Theatre Branch, 2 PM.

Love Pollution: A Tekno-Popera

See listing for Thursday, October 16. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater,

2 PM.

In Situ

Julie Laffin performs "another piece about excess and loss." Chicago Cultural Center, courtyard, 6:30 PM.

Solid Decent Happy

Members of three of Chicago's leading experimental ensembles--the Neo-Futurists, Goat Island, and Lucky Pierre--present the fruits of their collaborative labor. Curious Theatre Branch, 7 PM.

The Dogs of Love

See listing for 7 PM Friday, October 17. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.

Pity Sex

See listing for 9:30 PM Friday, October 17. No Exit Cafe, 7:30 PM.

The Improvers

Three comics struggle to improve their stand-up routines in this play by writer-director Laurie Jo Reynolds. Curious Theatre Branch,

9 PM.

The JillyCat Club

Sweetback Productions previews its upcoming "Tantric Elbow Cabaret." No Exit Cafe, 9:30 PM.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19

Riverview, or The African Dip

"The African Dip," for those too young to remember Chicago's Riverview amusement park, employed African-American men to sit above vats of water and yell racial insults at white passersby--thus inspiring the rubes to waste their money trying to knock the blacks off their perches with baseballs. Poet John Starrs's reminiscence is directed by Larry McCauley for Parochial Amusements. Curious Theatre Branch, 2 PM.

Mermaid

Lisa Barcy presents "a cautionary fairy tale for modern times" about "forbidden desire and carnal indulgences." Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 2 PM.

The Improvers

See listing for 9 PM Saturday, October 18. Curious Theatre Branch, 7 PM.

Love Pollution: A Tekno-Popera

See listing for Thursday, October 16. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater,

7 PM.

Pity Sex

See listing for 9:30 PM Friday, October 17. No Exit Cafe, 7:30 PM.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20

Known Unknowns: New Short Works

Theater Oobleck presents an evening of theater pieces inspired by America's Iraqi adventure. The bill includes Rumsfeld's Attic by David Isaacson, My Life in Law Enforcement and The Party by Friese Undine, and A Carcass, Have You Got Yourself an Occupation?, and Scythian Sky Poetry: Oral Epics of Nephology, all by David Bicharraco. "Not all of [the plays] work....But...Isaacson's giddy, cynical satire Rumsfeld's Attic takes the Bush administration's stated rationale for invading Iraq to a sobering Orwellian extreme. In Have You Got Yourself an Occupation?...Bicharraco's photojournalistic sketches slide by on overlapping brown-paper scrolls while an actor reads a horrifying description of an American bombing raid. And in A Carcass, Bicharraco turns Baudelaire's description of a prostitute's rotting corpse into a ballad of wartime carnage. It's rare for theater companies to respond so quickly to world events, and in this case the responses provide much food for thought," said Reader critic Justin Hayford when he reviewed the production's original run earlier this year. Curious Theatre Branch, 7 PM.

The People, Yes

Chicago poet Carl Sandburg's salute to the ordinary man and woman is adapted and staged by Fred Anzevino; Rich Green provides the folkish score for this Theo Ubique Theatre production. The show is "an eloquent but never mawkish testimonial to the enduring American character," says Reader critic Mary Shen Barnidge. No Exit Cafe, 7:30 PM.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23

Love Pollution: A Tekno-Popera

See listing for Thursday, October 16. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.

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