Rhinoceros Theater Festival winter showcase an intense fringe affair

SHARE Rhinoceros Theater Festival winter showcase an intense fringe affair
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Julia Williams (left and Kelly Anchors in
“The Near Future & That Sort of Thing.” | Jeffrey Bivens

Now in its 29th year, the Rhinoceros Theater Festival has a long history of presenting a dizzying array of works showcasing playwrights, actors, musicians and other performers from outside mainstream theater.

The festival has been curated through most of its years by a combination of Curious Theatre Branch’s Beau O’Reilly and Jenny Magnus along with Magnus’s husband and Prop Thtr artistic director Stefan Brun.

Rhinoceros Theater Festival When: Jan. 13-Feb. 25 Where: Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Tickets: $15 or pay-what-you-can Info: rhinofest.com

Since it’s first incarnation in the late ‘80s as a one-day event at the Bucktown Fine Arts Fest, Rhino Fest has continued to stand out from the standard idea of a fringe festival. Inviting veteran performers and newcomers to Prop to stage and experiment with new work is a more intense version of what Curious and Prop do all year long.

“I see it as more like the former ‘Abbie Hoffman Died For Your Sins Festival’ that Rich Cotovsky did at Mary-Arrchie Theatre,” Brun says. “A place for people to try themselves out in a less commercial, more experimental way in a creative environment where a lot is going on.”

A handful of years ago the organizers settled on January/February as an ideal time to present Rhino Fest. It opened up a time removed from the prime theater season for both performers and audiences to consider these unique works seen nowhere else and filled with a broad spectrum of ideas.

Madeline Whitesell (foreground) and Diana Gardner in “The Well.” | Tianshu Zhao

Madeline Whitesell (foreground) and Diana Gardner in “The Well.” | Tianshu Zhao

“When we moved it to winter, we really wanted to focus on cultivating a culture for incubating and staging new work,” Brun says, adding that staging it this time of year has helped the festival “grow a little bit and be more distinguished and distinct.”

Rhino Fest opens on January 13 with another incarnation of Curious Theatre’s variety show Full Moon Vaudeville with performances by Ian Belknap, Diane “AlleyCat” Hamm, Barrie Cole and many more.

For the duration of the festival the art show, “Zone Rats: The Afterlives of the Fabulous Killjoys,” will be on view at Prop Thtr. Every Monday, the Rhino Fest Lecture Series takes an interesting turn by adding an interview alongside the lecture. And the late-night Saturday Cabaret Prop’d features an array of musical guests, dancers and performance artists.

The 2018 Rhino Fest runs for six weeks and features 32 shows. Here is a look at some of the offerings. For a complete list of shows, days and times, go to curioustheatrebranch.com.

“Accidents”: Karen Fort’s new play asks the question: What did feminism look like in the early 1970s? A memory play, set in a hippie-type community in Oregon, the playwright plays with words and ideas from another time.

“The Belle of Austin”: Written in the style of Emily Dickinson’s letters, Rory Jobst’s solo performance piece imagines the correspondence of cult musician Daniel Johnston to his unrequited love.

“By the Deep Blue Sea”: A family-friendly musical tale of hope, friendship, heartache and returning home. With original songs by Giselle Greenberg and starring Chicago teens.

“Charlotte Interviews Narcissists”: Charlotte Hamilton’s dark comedy about an ambitious young woman who, in an attempt to understand, interviews narcissist’s throughout history and in her own life.

“The Institution”: Inspired by “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” playwright Lee Peters dark comedy looks at marriage through the eyes of a young gay couple and an older more traditional couple.

Carrie Biolo in “Jack the Dog.” | Carrie & Rob Mohn

Carrie Biolo in “Jack the Dog.” | Carrie & Rob Mohn

“Jack the Dog”: The experimental music duo Carrie Biolo and Jeff Kowalkowski create a unique soundscape with an array of instruments from trombone and zither to accordion and the icelophone, a percussion instrument that employs bricks of ice. Cool in more ways than one.

“The Near Future; That Sort of Thing”: Two new works by playwright Julia Williams. The first is a series of short scenes, which explore the advantage of being two people instead of just one. The latter looks at the joys and limitations of the nuclear family.

“The Subjective Is Beauty”: Paul William Brennan’s take on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale set in a world where beauty is irrelevant.

“The Threepenny Opera”: A one-night concert version of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s 1928 classic performed by Beau O’Reilly, Jenny Magnus, KellyAnn Corcoran, Julie Walters, Colm O’Reilly, T-Roy Martin, Jennifer Moniz, Janet Sayre, Leo Brun and Cat Jarboe.

“The Well”: Czech playwright Ran Jiao’s new play has no spoken lines just movements and actions. It asks how do three people communicate when trapped in a harsh reality? A remount of a Triangle Collective production first staged at the Armory Theatre in Champaign-Urbana.

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.

The late-night Saturday Cabaret Prop’d features an array of musical guests, dancers and performance artists. | Provided photo

The late-night Saturday Cabaret Prop’d features an array of musical guests, dancers and performance artists. | Provided photo

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