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Bughouse: "The Wasps," at Lincoln Park through August 7 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Thom White   
Monday, 01 August 2011 06:02

Aristophanes' The WaspsIt’s not easy for me to review Genesius Guild’s The Wasps, as this comedy does not rely on quality acting, the focus of most of my reviews. (In truth, the actors who don’t try to be hilarious and don’t attempt great acting here are more successful at being funny than the few that do.) Don Wooten’s direction also doesn’t matter as much for The Wasps as directing would in, say, King Lear. As was stated in the pre-show speech, this is sort of the Guild’s end-of-summer party, with the audience invited to watch the actors intentionally make fools of themselves. And happily, this party is utterly ridiculous and, at times, raucously funny, and elicited waves of laughter through Saturday night’s crowd.

As is Genesius Guild tradition, Wooten, who also serves as playwright, has updated Aristophanes’ comedy with modern and local references. The original script satirically focuses on the Athenian jury system and how it provided Athens’ demagogue, Cleon, with his political power. A Cleon hater, Phobokleon tasks his two servants with preventing his father, Philokleon, from escaping their home and returning to the wasps – which, in Wooten’s script, are a group of elderly fiscal conservatives who admire right-wing commentators, exemplified by the Wooten-written line, “We haven’t heard today’s sound bite, so we don’t know what to think.”

There are few impressions of celebrities and politicians in this year’s work. But there are the usual pointed references to current headlines – such as air-traffic controllers sleeping on the job, the current debt-ceiling debate, and construction on Quad Cities bridges (a female character insists this summer’s construction schedule must have been put together by a man) – plus the traditional mentions of other local theatre companies. (“No foul words! This isn’t the Curtainbox Theatre!”)

Wooten also mixes in songs and dances, sometimes even at the same time, throughout the show. The routines are unpolished and the choreography not that difficult, but that’s what’s charming about the numbers; in truth, the sloppiness of the entire performance of The Wasps is a significant part of its appeal. The actors are simply having fun, and their joviality is infectious.

The comedy’s songs are sardonic and not necessarily well-voiced, but no less enjoyable for the quality of singing. Sue Staley received lots of laughs for her song about standard accounting practices, which is far funnier than that theme would suggest. James Alt’s solo when portraying Weenie (former Representative Anthony Weiner) is populated with particularly clever lyrics. (“The news men all tittered when they saw what I Twittered without my bathrobe on.”) The biggest crowd-pleaser, however, was a number performed by a group called the Artsy Bunch – touring actors begging for funding for the arts. The chorus of their song, performed to the tune “Oh Susannah,” got laughs each time it was repeated. (“Wandering artists, traveling through the sticks, oh we come from New York City with some culture for you hicks.”)

There are a few uncomfortable moments, though, marked by what some might consider inappropriate humor. The script includes two gay jokes, both of which rely on clichéd stereotypes rather than sharp wit, and while I’m all for nothing being sacred in comedy, I expect something more intelligent from Genesius Guild than a character’s swishy stance while referring to “them,” or a man in bad drag being directed to the Rainbow District. There’s also a reference to another local theatre reviewer and the need to explain things to her, since she probably won’t understand the show. The line drew groans from the audience, which seemed to be a mix of delighted “oh no you didn’t” and distressed “you shouldn’t have” sentiments. (The joke fell on the side of laughing at, rather than laughing with, the reviewer, who was sitting in the front row for Saturday’s performance.)

For the most part, however, Wooten’s The Wasps is filled with witty, sometimes piercing humor wrapped in a production that no one would consider high art, and that’s the point – this is Genesius Guild’s chance to let loose. Seeing actors who have previously portrayed far more serious characters this summer hoofing it in a silly song-and-dance is itself a joke, and one that I wouldn’t mind hearing again before The Wasps’ run is done.


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Comments (14)Add Comment
written by Don Wooten, August 03, 2011
Thanks for the review. However, I think you have misconstrued references to reviewers. The only line in the play concerning reviewers comes late in the show when Philo tells Phobo to have his next witness "be quiet; there may be reviewers in the audience." An early line allows Sosias to mention someone he knows in the audience and he may have given Julie's name. The line says the audience is finally awake now, except for (fill in the name), one of many satiric references to the audience being asleep and unamused. I would never insult anyone who has been as constant in her attendance and promotion of our plays as Julie has been. We have joshed her and other reviewers over the years, but only in fun and I trust that was how this was taken.
written by John Easton, August 04, 2011
Thom's review is accurate. Mr. Wooten is lying through
his teeth by denying the verbal attack on Ms. Jensen.
written by theaterguy, August 04, 2011
I actually saw that video yesterday. There was no such attack on Ms. Jensen. Mr. Wooten is right on...early in the show, the servants do their song-and-dance routine. One of the servants then looks at the audience and says "Well, they are wide awake now. That's more than I can say for old Julie." There was no such inference that she "probably couldn't understand the show." Each night, one audience member is picked for that line. Clearly it was a teasing line, and it appears to have been taken that way. If you look at Ms. Jensen's review, there is no mention of being offended by any jokes tossed her way.
written by John Easton, August 04, 2011
Since you had access to a Guild video, wouldn't that
make your opinion biased toward Mr. Wooten? And if
Thom was wrong, how do you explain the audience's
reaction to the remark about Julie?
written by TheaterGuy, August 04, 2011
As long as I have been going to Genesius Guild plays (which is quite a number of years), there have been jokes aimed at the reviewers woven into the plays. None of them have taken it amiss, and (as I mentioned earlier) Ms. Jensen made no mention of being the target of offensive remarks. This is only the second time Mr. White has seen a Guild comedy, so it is entirely possible that he was not aware of this semi-tradition. I was there, and there were only a handful of audience members with a significant reaction. However, I particularly take exception to your claim that Mr. Wooten is "lying through his teeth." Question for you: were you there on Saturday night? If not, then how can you claim that it was a verbal attack? And if so, then what makes you think a "Well, they are wide awake now. That's more than I can say for old Julie" goes beyond teasing to being a verbal attack?
written by Don Wooten, August 04, 2011
They would have laughed if the actor had said Thom White.
The line is set up to produce a laugh whoever is mentioned,
as happened Sunday night when Bill Hannan was tagged.
A laugh may be interpreted differently, according to one's
sensibilities. The same thing applies to reading; a writer's
lines take on many different shades of meaning when filtered
through another's consciousness. This is common stuff, familiar
to anyone who ventures to write, sing, act, or dance. You can't
force a reaction on an audience. You take what they give you.
written by john easton, August 05, 2011
Yes, Theaterguy, I was at Saturday's show. Maybe
Julie didn't reference that in her review because she
has too much class. And Theaterguy, won't Mr. Wooten
let you use your real name?
Mr. Wooten, nice try, but objective audiences know you use the Greek comedy to take cheap shots.
written by TheaterGuy, August 05, 2011
Mr. Wooten has no say in whether I choose to use my real name or a pseudonym. Ms. Jensen is a reviewer, which means that if she finds humor in a show offensive, she is well within her rights to say so in her Mr. White did.
Excellent try at a dodge, but you still did not answer the question. What about that line do you believe constitutes a "verbal attack?" Was there any insinuation that I am missing? Or was it a teasing suggestion that the play had put her to sleep? (And, when you look at it this way, isn't it also a poke at the Genesius Guild and the script? The line suggests that the play had already put the audience to sleep, and that it took the song-and-dance routine to wake them up.) Please explain...
written by Don Wooten, August 05, 2011
This has gone beyond the point of relevance. I do not understand Mr. Easton's vehemence. In retrospect, I should have sent Thom an e-mail or discussed it with him over lunch, thus avoiding this essentially meaningless public to-do.
I am responsible for the script. But I left one detail out: a name to use in one speech. In the pressure of scrambling to assemble a cast and getting the show up with only five days' rehearsal, I forgot to give him a name. Where Julie's came from, I simply do not know. In fact, I never heard the line. I watch the play from the concession stand. On Sunday, I gave him a name and will do so again this weekend. If we use yours, Tom, would that be a cheap shot? Or simply a ploy to turn something merely silly into a real laugh?
written by Thomas J. White, August 05, 2011
Don, I think that would be quite funny, if not too inside. ;-) If I were in town this weekend, I would be there to heartily laugh along with you.
written by john easton, August 07, 2011
Theaterguy, I'll gladly answer your polite requests.
The offensive line, which many heard, was an inside
reference to what local theater types think of Ms.
Jensen's style. Secondly, yes, Mr. Wooten often
takes swipes (albet affectionate ones) at the Guild,
unlike the not always affectionate ones he takes
at the famous . And lastly, its common knowledge
that Mr. Wooten runs the Guild with a tight
ship, so your pseudonym (is that you, Bill?) is an
obvious way to hide your lack of objectivity in
this debate. After all, you have access to Guild
show tapes.
written by TheaterGuy, August 07, 2011
Nope, not Bill...guess again. There are plenty of people with access to Genesius Guild footage, by the way. There are often folks in the audience filming the shows...friends of actors, family, other members of the Guild, and sometimes general audience members. In this case you are correct in assuming I am involved in the Guild, but that is not necessarily a safe assumption. Anyway, I still have difficulty in seeing how it could be construed as an attack on Ms. Jensen; I truly believe that you are reading more into this than there really is. It had to be a name that people would recognize, and referring to Ms. Jensen fits into the semi-tradition of teasing reviewers. Ms. Jensen's "style" was not referred to in the line. Would you say that picking Mr. Hannan's name last Sunday was a reference to his artistic style? If not, then it does not seem to make sense that using Ms. Jensen's name was a reference to her writing style.
However, you are certainly entitled to your view of it. I do not know; there may be others who share that view. I feel very strongly that there was no intention to attack Ms. Jensen.
written by john easton, August 07, 2011
The issue has to do with Julie's health, which
I'm reluctant to discuss on the internet. What my
side is asking for is a little more sensitivity.
A friend asked the other day is Mr. Wooten uses
himself/his family for fodder in these comedies.
That he finds it so much easier to give (make fun
of others) than receive (make fun of himself with
the same vigor)is his problem. Its too bad the
Guild doesn't say "NO" to him when using question-
able material.
written by moliner, August 07, 2011
The anger of Mr. Eaton was impossible for me to understand. He obviously does not know Don Wooten at all, and if he did know Julie Jensen, I would have thought he could just talk to her and see that she takes no offense (especially where none is meant.) But I had to laugh out loud, roaring, falling out of my chair when he said "Mr. Wooten runs the Guild with a tight ship." Now I know that this whole comment thread must be just an elaborate joke!

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