Beau O'Reilly Credit: Courtesy Curious Theatre Branch

“People always assume it came from the play,” says Beau O’Reilly via e-mail.

But no. The Rhinoceros Theater Festival wasn’t named for Rhinoceros, Eugène Ionesco’s classic 1959 comedy about a man whose neighbors morph into odd-toed ungulates with horns. The actual inspiration was “Rhinocéros Cosmique,” a series of bronzes by Salvador Dalí. According to O’Reilly, rhinocéros was “Dalí’s word for ‘a really big thing.’”

I’d trust him on this, inasmuch as O’Reilly’s a cofounder of the Curious Theatre Branch, which has presented each of Rhinofest’s 27 annual iterations.

This year Curious will finally make the connection that never was: O’Reilly himself will direct Rhinoceros (1/23-2/28, Sat-Sun 7 PM), and the fest’s fringe-y local participants have been invited to create pieces inspired by it.

Predictably, the contributions include shows titled Hippopotamus (1/22-2/26, Fri 9 PM) and Orangutan (1/21-2/25, Thu 8 PM). Mark Chrisler’s Endangered (1/23-2/27, Sat 7 PM) concerns efforts to lure a gamer-turned-rhino back to the human side using his high school crush as bait. Logan Breitbart’s Jail (1/22-2/26, Fri 9 PM) asks “How does it feel to be the last person like you?”

And in the center of everything, marvelous Ionesco, whom O’Reilly regards as “the major absurdist after Beckett.” The absurdists are crucial to modern theater, he asserts. “Plus I like investigating [Ionesco’s] work, the dreamy sharpness of it.”

Rhinofest 1/16-2/28: Thu-Tue various times, Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston, 773-492-1287,, $12 in advance, $15 or pay what you can at the door. Opening gala Sat 1/16, 8 PM.