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Rhinoceros Theater Festival 

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This annual showcase of experimental theater, performance, and music runs through 10/31 at Prop Thtr, 3502-4 N. Elston. Rhino Fest is coordinated by the Curious Theatre Branch, and features emerging and established artists from Chicago's fringe. Performances take place in Prop's north and south theaters. Admission for most shows is $15 or "pay what you can"; exceptions are noted below. For information and reservations, call 773-267-6660 (except as noted below) or visit www.rhinofest.com. Following is the schedule through 10/20; a complete schedule is available at www.chicagoreader.com.

THURSDAY 13

Racket Sports, Young Children & Late Bloomers Volume 3: The Bunny Pilsbury Suite

The Halfway House Theater Society's cloying, precious one-act, a world premiere by M.S. Duffey, strains for Wodehousian whimsy. A seminarian/wannabe economist joins forces with an economist/wannabe novelist at the home of a wealthy young woman on whom both have designs, despite their tangled relationships with her late father (who apparently was not really her father). As directed by James E. Whittington, the performances are deliberately stilted and presentational, with the droll exception of Padraic Connelly as the mournfully understated economist. (KR) a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

Presenting a modern-day nightmare in old-timey dress, William C. Kovacsik's story-theater piece, which includes music and dance, recounts the ordeal of an Indian farmer struggling to reclaim his identity after his unscrupulous brother and corrupt officials conspire to have him declared legally dead in order to seize his land. As Mr. Masra's existential crisis unfolds in this Prop Thtr/Rasaka Theatre Company coproduction, his story turns into an impassioned plea for the dignity of all people disenfranchised by the march toward modernity. This world premiere crackles under Anish Jethmalani's sharp direction. (ZT) a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

FRIDAY 14

R The Book of Grendel

Dan Telfer's play, a world premiere from Theater Oobleck, is inspired by the mythic monster from Beowulf. More than just a facile reversal of the original, with Beowulf as blustering warrior and Grendel as misunderstood misfit, this is a kind of comic-mythic cosmology of evil, exploring questions of time, mortality, and what it means to be God's outcast. Colm O'Reilly is excellent in the title role--part Caliban, part Kramden. (ZT) a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 10/13. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

The Lasts

The Magpies present an "ornithological romance" by writer-performer Robin Cline and director-designer Shawn Reddy about the death of the last passenger pigeon in captivity, who passed away two years after its mate, the last male passenger pigeon. a North theater, 9 PM.

SATURDAY 15

The Hermit in New York

The Still Point Theatre Collective presents Teresa Weed's new play based on the life and work of Trappist monk and radical political essayist Thomas Merton. This placid, overlong, dry-as-dust assemblage of set pieces fails to capture the essence of a man who was both removed from the world and deeply engaged with it; it feels stilted and lifeless in a way that Merton's work never does. (ZT) a North theater, 3 PM.

The Lasts

See listing for Fri 10/14. a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 10/13. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

R Wide Open Beaver Shot of My Heart, a Comedy With a Body Count

A subtle, wearying darkness has always lurked beneath Ian Belknap's droll, literary comic monologues, and in his new solo piece he looks that darkness square in the face. Twenty years ago his adored grandfather was murdered, and not long afterward his 40-year-old alcoholic father killed himself. Sitting behind a table, he reads his preliminary, eviscerating musings on the subject, ever mindful of the self-destructive genes he's inherited. The hour-long performance is biting, hilarious, agonizing, self-deprecating, ennobling, and human in its conclusion. (JHa) a North theater, 9 PM.

Detail From the Mountain Side

This world premiere by talented writer-director Brian Torrey Scott departs from the airless self-consciousness that's marred his earlier efforts. Scott still displays a penchant for aphoristic dialogue that doesn't always advance plot or allow insight into the characters, but at least he seems to have battled his aversion to giving the story's background and circumstances. A man returns to his hometown and tries to pick up the pieces of his relationships with his best friend, his sister, and a woman who might be a former flame. The songs are occasionally strained, but Jeff Harms and Donovan Sherman give solid performances, and Jen Morris's color-saturated slides are lovely. (KR) a North theater, 10:30 PM.

R Mary Shelley and Her Monsters

The Upstart Theatre Group's world premiere enacts episodes from the life of writer Mary Shelley as well as popular images of her most famous creation, Frankenstein's Creature. Straightforward biography alternates with passages from the novel illustrated with music, dance, and tableaux to convey the story's deeper resonance, reflecting Shelley's experiences among the most notorious freethinkers of the romantic age. The spectacle leans toward the abstract, but the intriguing parallels between the writer's life and her fiction are realized with enough coherence, grace, and imagination to be persuasive. (MSB) a South theater, 10:30 PM.

SUNDAY 16

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 10/13. a South theater, 3 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

Cin Salach and Ten Tongues

Performance poet Cin Salach and Ten Tongues perform vintage and new selections from their repertoire of spoken-word/music pieces. a North theater, 7 PM.

Alphabet Report

Julie Caffey and Barrie Cole present the third installment in their exploration of the alphabet as the inspiration for "ruminations on things minuscule, mammoth, and everything in between." Every performance is semi-improvised. Cole's eccentric lists are dizzying, but Caffey alternately grounds Cole when she gets too out there and ventures into outer space herself when Cole becomes obsessed, as she sometimes does, with finding the infinite in quotidian specks. Watching this hour-long show is like flipping through a great poet's journal: long stretches of fairly dry material are punctuated by moments of amazing verbal pyrotechnics. (JHe) a South theater, 7 PM.

MONDAY 17

The Family Dogs

This hour-long three-part work, written by Chris Bower and presented by the Halfway House Theatre Society, examines the elusive nature of memory. In the first section, two brothers argue endlessly over their contradictory memories of the family dog. The second part consists of dull monologues from each brother, while the last is an unsettling video linked to the earlier dialogue and silently observed by the siblings' beer-guzzling father. Bower's script deftly juggles sad, creepy, and comic moments, but it needs a better translation to the stage. His decision to direct the work doesn't serve it well: the casting is weak and the staging is scattered. (JG) a North theater, 7 PM.

Almost a Kentucky Belle and Are You Cool or Are You Uncool?

Two world premieres. The first, by Rose Buckner, is a one-woman show inspired by Buckner's late grandmother, a woman raised by her tradition-bound family in the bluegrass region of 19th-century Kentucky. Almost a Kentucky Belle begins as an engaging portrait of its subject but ends as an enervating summary of her life. Also on the bill is Laura Hugg's stiff Are You Cool or Are You Uncool?, a semiautobiographical solo piece about "how a driving, misguided obsession to be detached and unaffected while looking really good in black often leaves one laying in a crumpled, pasty heap on the floor of life." (JV) a South theater, 7 PM.

WEDNESDAY 19

Eat and . . . Should We Put It Out? (The Smoke)

The Asbestos Theatre Project's Eat consists of three vignettes that explore whether redemption is possible when human beings inhabit such profane bodies. The fluid Kate Teichman and the cringing Stephen Mosblech put themselves through various forms of agonized contortion, which are hard to watch if sometimes interesting. But in the end the works could really use a narrative and/or stronger, better-developed ideas. Also on the bill is Jayita Bhattacharya's tedious . . . Should We Put It Out? (The Smoke), about a quest for nothing much that never gets off the ground. The cast creates a bleak postapocalyptic world where each person is stripped of something essential, but Bhattacharya fails to say anything substantial. (JV) a North theater, 7 PM.

Hateship, Friendship, Loveship, Courtship, Marriage

Inspired by an Alice Munro story, this event, coordinated by Beau O'Reilly, features weekly performances of new work. Participating artists include Amy England, Johnny Mars, Melissa Walker, and Dave Snyder. a South theater, 7 PM.

THURSDAY 20

Racket Sports, Young Children & Late Bloomers Volume 3: The Bunny Pilsbury Suite

See listing for Thu 10/13. a North theater, 7 PM.

R The Masrayana

See listing for Thu 10/13. a South theater, 8 PM. $15-$25; reservations at 773-539-7838.

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