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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 “rhino-cerontic” (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 9; a complete schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com


The Casual Family

This three-person ensemble presents four short plays with music: Airland, by Adam Vine; Aviary, by Nora Jean Lange; and Tuning In to the Power of Active Listening and Understanding Shyness, by Brian Torrey Scott. “It’s difficult to say which of the plays is hardest to take. They all indulge in gratuitous mystification: nonsensical language, unmotivated interactions, unexplained premises, relationships and situations rendered incomprehensible by the careful elision of crucial information….The point of all four plays…may be missed communication on a habitual, societal level, and the isolation that results from it. Certainly that was the point made by the old absurdist playwrights the Casual Family so urgently attempts to emulate here. Neither Scott, nor Vine, nor…Lange has the chops at this point to make good on that attempt,” says Reader critic Tony Adler. Curious Theatre Branch, 7 PM.

Love Pollution: A Tekno-Popera

The Nomenil theater group performs Allen Conkle, Courtney Evans, and Christopher Powers’s musical spoof. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.


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 Central Black Hole of the Universe

Performance artist Michael K. Meyers offers a solo show. 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.

The Wolf Hunt

Matt Wilson’s drama concerns an adopted man’s attempt to track down his birth family. “The Wolf Hunt is as spare and sharp as it can be. It tells its rather O. Henry-ish story…in a few well-shaped scenes covering no more than 45 minutes. The narrative is hokey….But the craft and conviction of The Wolf Hunt–together with a competent group of actors, directed by Wilson and Daniel Taube–make it possible to suspend skepticism and accept the truth of things as they’re told,” says Reader critic Tony Adler. Curious Theatre Branch, 9 PM.

About Race

Antonio Sacre and Susan O’Halloran team up for a program of storytelling. No Exit Cafe, 9:30 PM.


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 7 PM Thursday, October 2. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 2 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, 7 PM.

The Central Black Hole of the Universe

See listing for 7 PM Friday, October 3. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.


Cavan P.M. Hallman’s poetic theater piece draws on T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and other literary sources. “Still measuring out his life with coffee spoons and daring to eat a peach, . . .Eliot’s passive survivor finds himself in colorful company in. . .Hallman’s 50-minute fantasia. Rearranging if not deconstructing the sardonic ‘love song’ (we actually hear what the women who come and go say about Michelangelo), Hallman plays Prufrock as a feckless quester obsessed with taking because he has nothing to give. He reacts in panic to a loveless engagement by becoming entangled with a waitress…he eventually murders–displaying far more enterprise than Eliot would have given him credit for. He also encounters the three Fates, Medea about to murder her children, Odysseus resisting the sirens’ song, and Virgil and Dante declaiming from their epic travel poems. The contrast only shrinks Prufrock the more. Hallman creates daring juxtapositions: the chorus moves from overlapping dialogue to a chanted lamentation to final cacophony. It’s not easy to perform ritualistic movement in the cramped [coffeehouse space]. And the occasional stiff recitation takes its toll, making the rapid mood changes more confusing than convincing. But Hallman’s depiction of a very needy Prufrock anchors Eliot’s culture-clashing collage in a kind of disarming mediocrity. Eliot, who certainly treasured many artists he didn’t get around to mentioning in the poem, would have appreciated this literary carnival,” says Reader critic Lawrence Bommer. No Exit Cafe, 7:30 PM.

Elephino Concert

Beau O’Reilly, Jenny Magnus, and Joe Tech headline a musical evening with the Jeb Bishop Trio. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7:30 PM.

Last of the Red-Hot Dadas

The Exit Theatre presents Reader critic Kerry Reid’s new play about Dada-era artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, often cited as “America’s first punk,” and of whom Marcel Duchamp said, “She is not a futurist. She is the future.” This one-woman show stars Christina Augello. Curious Theatre Branch, 9 PM.


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.


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

Last of the Red-Hot Dadas

See listing for 9 PM Saturday, October 4. Curious Theatre Branch, 7 PM.

Love Pollution: A Tekno-Popera

See listing for 7 PM Thursday, October 2. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.


Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval trade insights in this piece about “two men–one black, one Jewish, both suburban–[who] discovered their identities through hip-hop.” No Exit Cafe, 7:30 PM.

Elephino Concert

See listing for 7:30 PM Saturday, October 4. Tonight’s guest artists are Ten Tongues and Vernon Tonges. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7:30 PM.


Theater and Resistance

To take or not to take–establishment funding, that is. This panel discussion addresses issues affecting politicized art. 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.


Chain Reaction

Lucky Plush Productions presents an interdisciplinary dance-theater work directed by Julia Rhoads. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7 PM.


Love Pollution: A Tekno-Popera

See listing for 7 PM Thursday, October 2. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.

Chain Reaction

See listing for Wednesday, October 8. Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7 PM.