Rhinofest Review Round-Up
Updated: Feb 3, 2020
Hello there, and welcome to the lowdown on Rhinofest. What is Rhinofest? Rhinofest happens to be an integrative compilation of various artists and theatrical focuses. Solo performances, contemporary works, devised works, short pieces, musicals, comedies, tragedies, you name it. There's something for everyone who steps through the doors of its cozy homebase at Prop Thtr. (If you're lucky, you may even get some free snacks.)
Produced by Prop Thtr, Curious Theatre Branch, and Rhinofest, this festival is the longest running fringe festival in the city. This means no fees for artists to participate nor lottery system where artists are chosen at random the opportunity to perform. Submissions instead were open to all and considerately curated for its confirmed line-up. If that weren't a sweet enough deal, tickets to attend are also pay what you can. On both sides of its programming, financial circumstances and the act of participation are highly taken into consideration.
Rhinofest kicked off its festivities last month and they're still running until February 24. With two months of vastly different, intimate, vivid experiences, this level of production is impossible to ignore. I will be posting short reviews of the shows I check out here throughout the month. Check back for updates!
Cafe: A Meditation
Directed and written by J Van Ort
When you first walk into Café: A Meditation, proceed with caution. Literally. The floor is strewn with spare coffeeless cups and you may have to pave your own path to see what these two dazed baristas are up to. With a rotating cast throughout its run, Electra Tremulis and Emmalee Dixon clocked in for the shift I witnessed. This duo had an inexplicable chemistry that fostered each other into clarity and chaos. They lead a riveting experience that reflects on the state of the theatre, naturally interchanged with politics, and what memories keep life worth living. It has a Carol Churchill charged energy with rising moments of Sarah Kane in a Waiting for Godot like setting. While it reflects on the exhaustion that comes with working for your art, there's never a tiring moment. As refreshing as a cup of French pressed coffee, it's good till the last drop.
Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Beau O'Reilly and Julia Williams
Presented by Curious Theatre Branch
Why isn't Caryl Churchill produced more? This is the question that echoed in my mind as I watched The Skriker. Verbose language, hilarity mixed with high concepts, and a range of pop culture references with political discourse paints a mirage of a world to become enraptured. Churchill's work is on the level of Shakespearean mastery, and performing it is no easy feat. The skriker themself kicks us off as a dark humored, quasi-narrator weaving the tapestry of this fairytale world that eerily seems like it could be our own. A world in which babies are prone to disappear, young women's lives are in constant danger, and destruction is everywhere. Fiction, you say? Hmm. Churchill's text is lifted from the 90s' and into the present as a welcome tale, delighting in poetry with resonances that seem to trickle down from Anne Sexton and Angela Carter. There's a grittiness, an anger, a mixture of ugly within beauty and beauty within ugly that's so remarkably breathtaking. It's a thrilling journey interspersed with dark creatures, even darker fairies, and musical interludes. Churchill's text finds its rightful place: spoken aloud among a group of passionate players.
Minutes and Seconds
Written by Chris Vanderark
Directed by Michelle Altman
Presented by Evil Gay Space Witch
Who says the end of the world can't be funny? Minutes and Seconds argues it can, especially when trapped with four people whose capacity for love may be eclipsed by a burning resentment. With a perfect premise to do so, Vanderark weaves in various issues seamlessly. Marital struggles, familial pride, and unencumbered secrets run amok. As the electricity diminishes, you start to wonder if this family may kill each other before the apocalypse arrives! Instead of veering into cheesiness, the ensemble plays everything from a place of earnestness. It's refreshing to see everyone's flaws on full display and easily recognizable as how we can slip into these patterns. If we don't see ourselves in these characters, then we're kidding ourselves of how polite or positive we would be near death. This is a remarkable ensemble where each wears their character on their sleeves. David Lew Cooper brings a likeable, "nice guy" energy to Zachary, Nathaniel Andrew as Parker is tenaciously unapologetic and conniving, and Martha Hansen's performance as June is on par with Allison Janney in I, Tonya. Star among stars is Jazzma Pryor as Brielle who plays so many emotional levels effortlessly at once you want to extend your hand out to her and hold it tight. A hilarious time that will also leave you in chills.
Fragments of Hearbreak Reassembled Here
Written and performed by Wendy Parman
Music by Wendy Parman
Directed by Jill Daly
Wendy Parman takes audience members on a journey as she struggles to reconcile with her livelihood. With a delightful recreation of her apartment as a set including a makeshift bookshelf of humorous titles, we are spectators welcomed into Parman's world. She shifts to and from the world where she has become entrapped in her apartment after dealing with divorce, a timely polar vortex, and restless of what is the next career move. Is it to teach vocal lessons for students who don't show up or stand on her own as a performer where the only roles she can be considered for are twenty years older than her actual age? In the midst of these dilemmas, we're treated to moments of Parman's soothing vocals. She offers humorous takes in her ballads regarding staying at home alone and the characteristics of her fellow actors. In a poignant moment, she touches on how there is rarely work made specifically for women in their 40s or 50s being played by those who are those ages. This group gets lost in our depictions of media and the instinct to fade away instead of pushing back is understandable given this lack of representation. Through sharing her story, Parman delivers a clear message of creating the work when it doesn't exist.
The Ear and the Hart
Written by Danielle Malenock
Directed by Danielle Malenock
Presented by Theatre of the Beyond
The Ear and the Hart explores what happens when a friendship is tested and choices that come with unforeseen, but finite consequences. In what feels like a war akin to Star Wars with mentions of the resistance and invaders, Jenna (Emmalee Dixon) and Lily (Danielle Malenock) as members of the Intergalactic Protection Conglomerate have been given the okay to board a mission. A mission which we realize from the start was doomed as the play opens to Jenna with a crashed plane, her confidant nowhere in sight, and no estimate of when she will find herself rescued instead of marooned. With plenty of time to kill, Jenna recounts how she got here through flashbacks and present dialogues with an imaginary Lily. While transitions felt like they could have been better utilized, the overall scope of the story flies by, much like the launch of a rocket as it makes its way in orbit. Dixon delivers a powerful, heart wrenching performance that makes you contemplate what it is like to live with the possibility of living out your last days with the weight of having wronged your best friend be one of your last acts. I appreciated seeing the realistic dialogue of a strong, female friendship where you may not always agree with one another or even like each other, but there is a deep, admirable affection that can never be broken even in tough times. This play keeps you on pins and needles not because you fear Jenna won't escape, but perhaps even the more devastating loss of two people who truly love one another leaving one another with unsettled conflict.
How to Pick a Lock
Written by Tanuja Jagernauth
Directed by Tara Branham
Futuristic realities and the power of femmes having each other's backs was weaved in the fabric of Rhinofest this year. How to Pick a Lock is no exception, but approaches these concepts from a fresh, brilliantly breathtaking perspective. This 'play-in-progress' is directed with great care by Tara Branham, and written by the ferociously funny and vulnerable veracity of Tanuja Jagernauth. To a warm, uproarious crowd full of welcoming energy on their closing night, there was so much support in the room your heart could burst. As Rose (Adelina Feldman-Schwartz), Ursula (Jenna Anast), Soledad (Elizabeth Nungaray), and Ruthie (Priya Mohanty) trickle in for the How to Pick a Lock workshop, we get subtle hints throughout their conversations of what Chicago has transformed into. The internet is down. Zines are vintage, but not illegal yet. No over the counter drugs, Target, CVS, and Walgreens all wiped out. The list continues on throughout the night from University of Chicago, to libraries, to grocery stores etc. Anything considered valuable or beyond it as a basic necessity for human life is locked. Hence the workshop is not just an opportunity to pick up a new skill, but a means of survival if any of them want to see tomorrow. When their reluctant, but qualified leader arrives, Zahra (Jalyn Greene) guides the group (actors and audience) through the skill share of how to pick a lock sans locks as they're prohibited. The demonstration of lock picking encounters many stumbles to get there, but it's plausibility arises from conversations regarding the structure of the workshop: what constitutes a safe space vs. brave space, each of the women's intricate backstories of why they came, and a good dose of audience interaction. Everything about How to Pick a Lock is multi-faceted, generous, and exhilarating in a story where hope seems lost; it's a reminder that we can fight stronger together even when the world feels like it's left us.
Directed by Iris Sowlat
Taken from poems by Alexandra Ranieri
Devised by the Ensemble
Presented by Abaisses Theatre
The woes of tragic lovers we can't help, but eat up. Most are familiar with Romeo and Juliet, and it seems like more are becoming smitten with reenvisoning the tale of I would say the more unfortunate lovers of Eurydice and Orpheus. "I thought that love was a kind of emptiness", blares Florence as the lights fade and reopen on a fabulous firestorm of furies as they set the backdrop of O & E. Spoken in a mystical manner, poetry falls out of the ensemble's mouths likes jewels and pearls, lavish, unapologetic, and delightful. O & E get a modern update as we find the lovers on the El before Eurydice decides she longs for more than her provincial life with Orpheus: "I saw the devil on South Halsted street." She decides to take a dance or two in the afterlife with Hades and "the slimy, bloody queen", Persephone. Narrations of Ranien's poems provide seamless transitions making you peer in a little closer so you don't miss what sort of misadventures are in store. What really drives home this piece is the masterful, playful mannerisms of the ensemble. They are childish, coquettish, and hellish. You're transfixed of what possibilities this world can offer, and Solwat orchestrates a dreamscape that is all consuming, yet intoxicating. The utilization of space and play with objects makes hell feel endlessly configuring and intimate. Near the famous dilemma of the piece's climax, Orpheus and Eurydice are allowed to return to earth together, but if Orpheus looks back to see if Eurydice is following him, she is doomed to the underworld forever. When Eurydice exclaims, "I was tired of longing for nothing", you can't help but feel sympathy for her desire to see another life for herself lived. Those feelings of longing still stay with me now as the underworld feels like it's rising into our own.
That is all the shows we were able to catch this year at Rhinofest. This is but a snapshot of the tons of performances that happened almost daily for two months of the festival. So happy to have attended as a first timer, and will definitely be returning in the future.