Rhinofest coartistic directors Jenny Magnus (left) and Beau O'Reilly (center) and friends Credit: COURTESY CURIOUS THEATRE BRANCH

Rhinofest turns 29 this year and remains one of the only fringe festivals in the US that actively curates its acts instead of selecting them through a lottery. This year artistic directors Jenny Magnus and Beau O’Reilly have chosen 41 different plays, cabarets, dance performances, workshops, and other things that defy classification. Of course Reader critics have opinions what’s worth seeing. The festival runs through February 25 at the Prop Thtr (3502-04 N. Elston), Wednesday through Monday. Each show is performed once a week. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 or pay what you can at the door.

The Best

Bad Boy WorldCredit: Sofia Bergfeld

Bad Boy World

Jiana Estes and Alex Hovi of the Hot Kitchen Collective create a sloppy but heartfelt rumination on what, if anything, it means to be a boy in 2018. Estes and Hovi dump bottle caps, water, beer, ketchup, and fast food on the floor until the entire stage is a mess. They mess with one another in playful and menacing ways. Scene changes are indicated when one or the other says, “I’m gonna take out the trash,” while leaving everything just as it is. But behind the slapstick and splatter, the pair explores aspects of gender, intimacy, self-worth, and friendship. They may be too young and brash to know answers to the questions they raise, but they’re way smarter than their dumb jokes make them out to be. —Dmitry Samarov
Mon 7 PM

Direct My Woyzeck
In Chris Zdenek’s joyous, preposterous hour-long event with The Official Theater Company of. Thyssenkrupp AG, the audience must select from its ranks a production team (director, designers), audition five actors (all at once), and then stage several scenes from Georg Büchner’s feverish 19th-century masterwork Woyzeck according to an inflexible schedule (three minutes for blocking, four minutes for “scene work,” etc.). When it’s over, the audience must forge a mission statement for the impromptu theater company, then listen to a freshly-written review of the performance. In robust Fluxus tradition, Zdenek celebrates amateurism while ridiculing the uptight conventions of “legit” theater. The scenes my audience staged were gleefully awful, one led by a director whose only instruction to his cast was, “Act!” —Justin Hayford
Wed 7 PM

The Disconnected
El Bear presents John Fisher’s bombastic, brash, and bright take on dystopian farce. A soon-to-be-divorced couple’s bitter argument is disrupted by bumbling time travelers who are on a mission to prevent humanity’s looming subjugation by search engines, androids, and other sinister technologies. Strobe lights, 3-D glasses, and a booming soundtrack herald the visitors’ arrival, but the dark future they reveal is, of course, not discernibly different from our own present: the chilling land of ‘likes’ in 2099 looks much like 2018. No deep insights here but this spirited reminder of the idiocracy we’re merrily marching toward is apt and welcome. Rauly Luna directed. —Dmitry Samarov
Mon 9 PM

Josephine the Mouse SingerCredit: Eric L. Kirkes

Josephine the Mouse Singer

When Josephine stands with her head thrown back, mouth half-open, eyes turned upwards, suffused with the intention to sing, the other mice cease work and assemble around her, forgetting the need to gather food and ignoring the constant peril to which they are exposed. But is her singing truly special, or is it only the ordinary sort of piping any mouse might do? Dani Wieder and Itzel Blancas put Kafka’s singing mouse on trial in their imaginative rendition of his last short story, “Josephine the Mouse Singer,” with puppets designed by Jurrell Daly. As Josephine, Ariana Silvan-Grau is both a conjuror and a charismatic fraud. More the marvel, Gabriel Levine single-handedly animates the rest of the village. As a consideration of both aesthetics and the life and value of art, this gem of a production charms as much as it challenges. —Irene Hsiao
Fri 7 PM

These Violent Delights: An R & J CabaretCredit: courtesy the artist

These Violent Delights: An R & J Cabaret

Kite & Key Theatre’s musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare by way of Glee, but it’s less painful than that sounds. Adapted and directed by Kate Leslie, These Violent Delights incorporates pop and rock songs into a significantly cut down version of the script. Leslie combines characters and mashes up scenes to keep the pace moving between songs, which include both contemporary tunes by Walk the Moon and Sara Bareilles and classics like “Bad Moon Rising” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” These connections aren’t subtle, but Leslie finds the right songs for the moment, with inspired use of the Kesha tracks “Die Young” and “Follow You” at key moments in the star-crossed courtship. Smooth direction and passionate performances make this a lively, charming take on very familiar source material. —Oliver Sava
Sat 7 PM

The Rest

Karen O. Fort’s chosen-family dramedy examines the sexual revolution and women’s liberation movements of the 1970s through the lens of one cohabitating group of Pacific Northwest friends. An out-of-work teacher and her firefighter roommates have their own mid-midlife crises interrupted when a teenage runaway (Stella Akua Mensah) arrives unannounced at their cabin doorstep looking for help. What follows that promising setup is the sort of low-stakes, languid, talky drama that feels like the filler in a long-running series, not a condensed two-act story. But when it’s not spinning its wheels or winking too hard at history, Rose Freeman’s production has some lightly comedic and romantic dynamics that ring heartfelt and true. —Dan Jakes
Sun 7 PM

Charlotte Interviews NarcissistsCredit: courtesy of Charlotte Hamilton

Charlotte Interviews Narcissists
Given that they’re playing some of the most caricatured public figures alive—Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby—it’s unclear why no one in Charlotte Hamilton’s Rhinofest piece attempts any verbal impressions. At least in the case of Cosby, who is played by a white woman (gulp), the expressionless line-readings are probably for the better. Many playwrights have worked out arguments with themselves onstage, but Hamilton does so literally here, playing herself in talk-show-style exchanges and putting her own perceived narcissistic tendencies as an artist against those of celebrities, moguls, and figures from her past. The social commentary doesn’t really penetrate far past surface-level: Kardashians like selfies, Trump says “winning” a lot, Travis Kalanick is a human train wreck. —Dan Jakes
Sun 3 PM

Joan of ArcCredit: Iris Sowlat

Joan of Arc
Playwright Alex Ranieri turns Joan of Arc’s 1431 heresy trial into a poetic fever dream packed with religious philosophizing. Her prosecutors, led by the zealous, paranoid Bishop of Beauvais, swirl in and out of the shadows as they nudge her toward self-incrimination. Meanwhile the Maid’s guardian angels, Saints Margaret and Catherine, become insistent, electrified interlopers pushing her to accept execution. Through it all Joan, played by a fittingly guileless Sierra Buffum, engages any mind she can (including her own) in debates over the nature of faith, sin, pride, innocence, and salvation. It’s heady stuff, often obscured behind underdeveloped character relationships and excessive historical exposition, but all explored without a hint of irony. Director Iris Sowlat indulges in ample fussy blocking but keeps her actors focused on nothing but speaking truth. —Justin Hayford
Thu 7 PM

King Arthur: The Fall of CamelotCredit: Matthew Gregory Hollis

King Arthur: The Fall of Camelot

This one-act written by Jake Green and directed by Olivia Lilley covers the later, sadder part of the Arthurian legend. Before the opening curtain, Green announced that the show only came together in the past month, and it shows in the confused tone and acting throughout. Following the doomed affair between Queen Gwenivere and Sir Lancelot, the script—and also the performances—teeters between drama and comedy in ways that don’t seem entirely intentional. Neither do the shifts from Shakespearean rhyme to modern sarcasm and affectation. The “stripped-down” nature of the production offers an interesting opportunity to explore meaty ideas related to love, monarchy, and heroism, but a lack of emotional depth in the performances and incoherence throughout make it difficult to empathize with the characters. —Marissa Oberlander
Fri 9 PM

The Near FutureCredit: Jeffrey Bivens

The Near Future
Julia Williams is a fine actor whose performances I’ve admired for some time in plays that are wildly beneath her talents. Now she’s written and directed a show for Rhinofest which is wildly beneath even those plays. In the future, I guess, people have mechanical doubles, more attractive versions of themselves. The scenes that ensue based on that concept are a ramshackle hour of forlorn yammering. They include long sidebars on fish, flesh, and typewriters. There’s one good tape recorder scene with Brook Celeste, invoking Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. Celeste sits at the machine and listens to Williams’ own droll voice giggle, “It’s all closing in isn’t it? Ha-ha!” Williams at least feels the spirit and the intention of the thing. Briefly, so do we. But either Williams wasn’t able to instill this in her cast, or there was nothing to instill. —Max Maller
Sat 7 PM

Subjective is BeautyCredit: Courtesy the Artist

Subjective is Beauty
Like a jejune misreading of Kant’s Critique of Judgment combined with a bad psychotherapy session, Paul William Brennan’s Subjective Is Beauty succeeds in making 75 minutes feel like a joyless eternity. It’s an experiment with the patience of an audience to tolerate densely pseudo-intellectual dialogue stripped of nearly everything that makes theater worthwhile: story, stagecraft, and human affection. We are in the afterlife, locked in a room with only the most tiresome companions, an “enlightened” creature of no dimensions and a woman who was once beautiful. There is, as they say, no exit. The only pleasures remaining to the audience are the brief delectation of the flowing pre-Raphaelite hair of Beauty (Leslie Keller) and a lame joke about prosopagnosia. Silence is a virtue. Expect none here. —Irene Hsiao
Thu 9 PM