Rhino Fest 2011: A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  

A Fruit Salad of Fringe

  
  
Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Spores of Eden by Peter Axel Komistra  
       

All plays reviewed by Paige Listerud

Time simply won’t allow for a thorough review of all the productions curated for Curious Theatre Branch’s 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival. But an initial smattering might give you a glimpse of the good, the bad, and the deeply uncertain. Chicago’s fringe theater scene is clearly a subculture that depends on prior acquaintanceship—to know which fringe theater companies have a solid reputation for good work and which are still finding their feet and their voice. The following is a truly random selection of Rhino Fest 2011, a fruit salad of fringe, if you will, chosen for variety within the first weekends of the festival—many more productions remain throughout its 5-week run (through February 13). Check out the rest of its schedule.

Prop Thtr    

 All performances @ Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston (map)

 

    
All The Flowers Are Dead - Curious Branch Theatre All That Fall by Samuel Beckett - at Rhino Fest

 

Curious Theatre Branch presents
 
All That Fall/All the Flowers Are Dead
 

All That Fall by Samuel Beckett

Judith Harding, Matthew Kopp, Kate O’Reilly, Meg Hauk and Beau O’Reilly beautifully revived this Beckett radio play, all the while seated at a table crammed with hats and various noisemakers for special effects. Mrs. Rooney (Harding) takes a sojourn from her home to the train station where she means to pick up her husband. Along the way, she runs into various neighbors who may be a help, a hindrance, a peril, or a temptation to her. Beckett’s love of the cadence of language out of Irish mouths suffuses All That Fall, even when characters acknowledge that they are speaking a dead or dying language. It’s a play in which the old survive, even through complaining about the weariness of going on. Youth is either dying or removed by more insidious means. Curious’ production was so charming, rich and evocatively rendered, it’s a pity they will not be performing All That Fall past the first weekend of Rhino Fest. This production truly deserves a remount. If their production of Mexico, a poem play by Gertrude Stein is done half as well, then Chicago audiences are in for a real treat.

All the Flowers Are Dead, written and directed by Matt Rieger

Matt Rieger’s script is almost American Primitive in its construction and dialogue. Two households live in grinding poverty and predictable misery. Jerome takes care of his ailing mother, hoping that his new job planting flowers for the Park District will give them a better chance. His girlfriend, Rusty, gives him a bicycle to get to and from work but she also pressures Jerome into further commitment. Meanwhile, Augie has to contend with his dad, Nicky, for whom another drink is always the right decision and mom is no help when she finally stops pressuring Nicky to find employment and joins him in drink. Sadly, the first half of Rieger’s play is too plodding and the dialogue too boilerplate to capture the imagination. The play only comes alive once Nicky, to regain his son’s affection, steals Jerome’s new bicycle to give to Augie. The play’s conclusion is devastating but takes far too long to get there, making All the Flowers Are Dead a work in progress more than a completed play.


Astronaut - Lemonade Stand - Strange Lupus Theatre

   
Strange Lupus Theatre presents
  
Lemonade Stand
  
Written by Jordan Scrivner
Directed by
Ernest J. Ramon,
Sasha Samochina and Jordan Scrivner
thru Feb 10  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

It looks like another sunny day at the beach with a lovely young woman, Laura (Jessica Bailey), tending her humble and homey lemonade stand. But, in fact, it’s a way station on an asteroid at the other end of a wormhole, through which astronaut Alexander Russell (Ken Brown) has been propelled from his position on Earth’s moon. How did he get here and how will he get back—or go forward, since time and space have been thoroughly transcended? Laura’s answers Alex’s questions rather cryptically, plus the pair faces interruptions from a thoroughly goofy Professor (Crispin Rosenkranz), an affable and romantic delivery guy (Ernest J. Ramon) and a Russian gal (Sasha Samonchina) in disco attire. Strange Lupus’ production still looks rough around the edges–what with Brown coming off more like a confused actor than a confuse astronaut and Rosenkranz’s daffy, congenial professor still in need of refined comic timing. As is, Scrivner has a charming and profound script with Bailey and her delivery guy holding the production’s center. Simple but effective lighting effects from Maria Jacobson and Shannon Penkava, paired with Ramon and Samochina’s sound design, give Lemonade Stand its out-of-this-world vibe.

Featuring: Ken Brown, Jessica Bailey, Crispin Rosenkranz, Ernest Ramon, Sasha Samochina, Tommy Heffron, Paul Scudder

Sound Design by Ryan Dunn and Sasha Samochina


Currency by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman

   
Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman Duo present
   
Currency
    
Performed by Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman
More information

Lisa Fay and Jeff Glassman have the consummate professionalism of a longstanding comic team. While undoubtedly their short theater pieces contain comic moments, their real intent is to go to the center of human movement, habit and meaning. “Coffee Cup Duet” establishes the rhythm of a simple business meeting over coffee, as well as the rituals inherent in meeting and needing transactions wherein coffee and its accoutrements establish the common ground. “’Napse” is a mysterious and unearthly piece, combining Glassman’s commonplace movements with the gargling, choking, chewing, distortions and whispers Glassman conjures from a small mic saddled in his cheek. One never knows where Glassman is going next with the world he creates from each garbled sound. The suspense alone leads to a finish that unites the everyday with eternity. “Time and Again” examines the stop and start repetitive habits of a couple over the issue of when to return a book to the library. Fay and Glassman’s timing is impeccable and interrogates the very coming and going, leaving or staying that makes a relationship. “Homeland” hits the hardest, with a solitary housewife moving backward in time, from the moment she weeps into a phone in her hand to the violation of her home that has provoked her upset. The piece chillingly depicts where we are now.


"The Spores of Eden" by Peter Axel Komistra, now playing at Prop Thtr as part of Chicago Rhino Fest

   
Two Weeks Productions presents
  
The Spores of Eden
    
Written by Peter Axel Komistra
Directed by
Dylan S. Roberts
thru Feb 12  | 
tickets: $12  |  more info

Agatha (Lisa Herceg) and her daughter Linda (Cathlyn Melvin) spare it out over the last egg out of a dozen Agatha has set out in an Easter egg hunt for Linda to find. Not finding the 12th egg, Linda gives up and refuses to go looking for it, even when it begins to rot and stink up the house. A battle of wills ensues when Agatha keeps replacing the rotten egg for Linda to find and Linda keeps refusing to go in search of it.  Decay becomes the only thing the two women know and seems to be the only thing by which the Father (Paul Cary), speaking posthumously, endorses—or so we think. Everything remains at an impasse until Topher (Rory Jobst), Linda’s banished brother, arrives one evening to try and understand his banishment and his wayward life ever since. Peter Komistra seems to not know what to do with characters with such implacable wills as he has crafted here. While the cast does an admirable job with Komistra’s language, the characters themselves only oppose or undermine each other but never reach any kind of clear and creative rapprochement. While it’s thoroughly legitimate to return the play’s circumstances to the same decaying state in which they begin, the conundrums of seeking or failing to find renewal also receive a muddled treatment in the course of the work. The Spores of Eden needs a strong editorial hand and clarification—and it may also benefit from not leaning so heavily on the “Book of Genesis”.

  
  

Mexico - Curious Branch Theatre - Chicago Rhino Fest

           
           

REVIEW: In the Jungle of Cities (Ka-Tet Theatre Company)

   
   

Absurdist Play is an Acquired Taste

 

Scene from Bertolt Brech's "In The Jungle of Cities" - Ka-Tet Theatre

   
Ka-Tet Theatre Company presents
  
In the Jungle of Cities
   
Written by Bertolt Brecht
Directed by
Max Truax
Translated by
Anselm Hollo
at Red Tape Theatre, 621 W. Belmont (map)
through November 20  |  tickets: $20   |  more info

To not hate In the Jungle of Cities, the new production by Ka-Tet Theatre Company, you have to have some context of the work and its eccentric, yet heavily influential, playwright. The play was penned by Bertolt Brecht, a German playwright and devout Marxist whose modernist take on drama helped him carve out a unique niche in the world of theatre. His style of theatre is far from the traditional. The audience is discouraged from identifying with the characters. Rather, they are to see them as societal symbols personified. Meanwhile, the actions of the play are less like a plot and more like a long and winding allegory.

Scene from Bertolt Brech's "In The Jungle of Cities" - Ka-Tet TheatrePersonally, I’m not a fan of plays that require an audience to have a familiarity with the author’s aesthetic and body of work in order to derive enjoyment. It just feels so pretentious. But for those that are either already Brecht fans or don’t mind doing some research beforehand, you’ll definitely be pleased with Ka-Tet’s efforts in bringing the bizarrely absurdist piece to life.

The play takes place in Chicago. Two men are engaged in a bitter fight. One is a book clerk named George Garga (James Errico). The other is a wealthy Chinese lumber merchant named Schlink (Jeremy Clark). Going into the specifics of the plot for a play like this is worthless as there really isn’t much of a story but rather a seemingly stream of consciousness series of actions. True, there are bursts of coherent scenes here and there, such as Schlink handing over his lumberyard to Garga. But overall it’s a frantic, and sometimes frustrating, piece of work.

Although the uninitiated will likely leave the theater scratching their heads, even those unfamiliar with Brecht’s body of work will appreciate Clark’s spellbinding portrayal of Schlink. With an intense gaze and a commanding presence, Clark’s performance is gripping. It doesn’t hurt that he can cry on cue, too.

The supporting cast is also quite talented, including Rory Jobst as The Barker, a narrator-like figure who opens each scene with a strange and detached sort of rant before suddenly, as if possessed by a spirit, spouts out the scene’s time, date and location.

Scene from Bertolt Brech's "In The Jungle of Cities" - Ka-Tet Theatre

Despite its sheer weight and weirdness, the play is surprisingly funny. Perhaps this is in part because it is a translation of the original, so the language is comical. But I’d like to think that this was Brecht’s intention, to highlight the absurdity of our greedy capitalist culture through absurd humor.

Max Truax directs, using the Red Tape Theatre’s open space to his full advantage. The expansive and bare-boned set has the feel of a desolate city, thanks in part also to the use of a fog machine. During the play’s most charged moments, Truax positions the actors to play extremely far downstage, making the emotional intensity of the scene’s that much more effective.

In the Jungle of Cities will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, I can’t imagine many having the palette for it. But despite the lunacy of it all, the production succeeds thanks to some strong performances and adept direction.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

In the Jungle of Cities - Ka-Tet Theatre - poster

 

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