Stages

Rhinofest Continues for the 29th Year: We Review and Comment

Image for Direct My Woyzeck, courtesy Rhinofest.

Chicago’s longest-running fringe festival, the annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival, now in its 29th year, is presenting shows six nights a week through February 25. Rhinofest is produced by Prop Thtr and Curious Theatre Branch with all shows at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston.

Rhinofest focuses on new and up-and-coming artists and their new works, as well as new works by artists who have performed at the fest before. Two to four productions are presented nightly Wednesday-Monday with matinée shows added on Saturdays and Sundays. See the full schedule of 36 productions here.

Cabaret Prop’d runs on two more Saturdays, February 10 and 17, at 10:30pm. The series, produced by Diane Hamm, features bands and musical guests, dancers and performance artists, jugglers, burlesque and Eastern-style dance.

Songs from Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera will be performed at 9pm on Saturday, February 24, with performances by 10 artists and piano accompaniment.

All Rhinofest tickets are $15 or pay what you can at the door. Tickets purchased online in advance are $12. To buy tickets online, select the show you want to see here and click to buy tickets.

We had a chance to see one Rhinofest show (two others were snowed out) and hope to see more next week. Here’s a mini-review and info about a few other plays.

The Texture of Water by Emily Mercedes Rich

The Texture of Water is an origin story, says playwright and director Rich. It’s about a woman’s memories of her mother, who died when she was 8, and her growing up years in Florida, a place her mother never learned to like. It’s also a sweet memory play, switching back and forth in eras from 1966, the ‘70s and ‘80s to the present. Chris is played by three actors: Cindy Henkin as older Chris in the present day; Emma Sennett as 8-year-old Chris, and Kelly Levander as young-woman Chris and her mother Christine. Her older father is played by Lon West and his young counterpart by Paul Brennan.

Older Chris is the main character, opening with a long, quiet monologue about her mother, her life, and the recent death of her father. She puzzles over the journal her father gave her, written by her mother before her death 40 years ago. She’s not sure she wants to read it, but her friend Linda (Bethany Arrington) urges her to do so. “Was my mother’s death the worst thing that ever happened to me?” Chris asks. “I won’t know until I read the journal.” And later, “I inherited stories. My mother’s stories became my stories.”

The Texture of Water is a quiet play. Henkin is a quiet voice. Tiny Emma Sennett can barely be heard. But the overall effect is warm and human. Rich’s script and dialogue are natural and well-written. The plays runs about 90 minutes, including an intermission.

You can see The Texture of Water at 7pm Wednesday, February 14 and 21.

My Father’s Words by Mari DeOleo

This is one of the plays that I missed because of snow cancellations, but I had a chance to read the script. Playwright DeOleo describes her play as “a play about power, masculinity, language, faith and the relationship between a father/daughter preaching team.” The play is partly scripted and partly improvised and performed by two actors—Lee Brophy and DeOleo—playing a comedian and a clown, as well as other roles.

The main characters are Ana and her father, a Dominican native for whom Ana translates when she’s a teenager. She says, “Words. And being understood. He wanted that so badly and I was the path to that…the path towards being understood…but the moment I found my own words…it was a problem.” Later, she says, “Our words collided from then on…we spoke different languages. And somehow he still doesn’t understand how much his words in whatever language still echo in my ears…” The Nina Simone song, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” is the sound track, played occasionally throughout the play.

You can see My Father’s Words at 7pm Thursday, February 15 and 22.

Direct My Woyzeck by Chris Zdenek

Zdenek defines his play as presented by “The Official Theater Company of ThyssenKrupp AG.” (ThyssenKrupp is a German multinational firm and a giant steel producer with 670 subsidiaries worldwide.) Zdenek uses what is basically an outline for an improvised presentation in which an audience member is asked to direct a scene from the classic play Woyzeck by Georg Buchner. The audience member, now “the Director,” is given complete artistic control of the production. The Stage Manager will be present to guide the director and explain what is expected.

The Director can choose from several different excerpts, no more than 2 minutes in length and performed by two actors. The Director can also ask the rest of the audience for help.

You can see, and possibly direct, Direct My Woyzeck at 7pm Wednesday, February 14 and 21.

Communist Basketball Game by Dan Nelson

Nelson’s Communist Basketball Game is also more or less improvised, with no written script. It’s the story of a boy who grows up in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, ensuring he’s a basketball fanatic with the belief that he’ll play for the Indiana University Hoosiers. But he’s not big enough or good enough so he plays a lot of pick-up games. One day he finds an amazing group of strangers who play on the second floor of a church. But a tyrannical basketball bully is involved and threatens to take over the soul of the game.

You can see Communist Basketball Game at 9pm Thursday, February 15 and 22.

Other Plays to Check Out

You might also want to check out these additional plays: Josephine, the Mouse Singer; These Violent Delights; Joan of Arc; Sink or Swim; and Accidents.

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