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.


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.


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.

Cooking con Karimi and the Quest for the Secret Ingredient

Robert Karimi stars in this “improv/storytelling/radio drama/performance art” hybrid about a cable-access cooking-show host who wants to spread a message of “good eating, good living, and good sexy politics.” Karimi cowrote the piece with Sam del Rosario; each performance features “various special guests.” 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.

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 24. Chicago Cultural Center, studio theater, 7 PM.

Cooking con Karimi and the Quest for the Secret Ingredient

See listing for 9:30 PM Friday, October 24. 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.


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.

A Curious Vaudeville

This almost-anything-goes variety show features spoken word, video, dance, singing, and more. It’s a benefit for the Ralph A. Magnus Memorial Performers Fund, a nonprofit organization that offers performers small grants for basic needs. Curious Theatre Branch, 7 PM.

Cooking con Karimi and the Quest for the Secret Ingredient

See listing for 9:30 PM Friday, October 24. No Exit Cafe, 7:30 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew E. Cook.