Andy Koski and Aisha Ragheb in Romeo and Juliet More than a third of the area productions I attended this year - a whopping 35 of them - I saw in the 91-day span from May 17 to August 15. And more than half of those shows - 19 in all - were produced by a combined five theatre organizations: Rock Island's Genesius Guild, Eldridge's Countryside Community Theatre, the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre (CAST), Mt. Carroll's Timber Lake Playhouse, and Davenport's newly established Riverbend Theatre Collective. My experiences with this quintet formed a fascinating theatrical journey, one boasting plenty of highs, occasional lows, randomly bitchy Web-site comments ... .

Tom Walljasper, Sandra D Rivera, Tristan Layne Tapscott, and Erin Dickerson in Are We There Yet Five Extraordinary Ensembles

An actor friend of mine says he always wants to be the worst performer in everything he's in, because if the rest of the cast is doing stronger work than he is, that means the show is in really, really good shape. With that in mind, any actor worth his or her salt would be thrilled to be the worst performer among these five ensembles.

 

Bryan Tank and Sheri Hess in EvitaIn its opening minutes, Quad City Music Guild's Evita is so thrilling that even though the production begins with a funeral, I found it nearly impossible to stifle my giggles.

Aaron Sullivan, Denise Yoder, Dustin Oliver, Jaci Entwisle, and Peggy FreemanIn a theatre weekend that found me attending a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, a Kaufman & Hart play, a Shakespeare, and a pseudo-Shakespeare, I have to admit that, with the Riverbend Theatre Collective's presentation of Kimberly Akimbo, I was so psyched to see actors in modern dress screaming obscenities at one another that I could barely contain myself.

Anything Goes ensemble members There are actors in the Quad City Music Guild's current production of Anything Goes that are behaving like total idiots.

Thank God.

"The Wizard of Oz" ensemble members About halfway through the overture for the Quad City Music Guild's preview performance of The Wizard of Oz, my friend, sporting a huge grin, turned to me and whispered, "I feel like I'm watching the movie." With the thrillingly familiar strains emanating from music director Valeree Pieper's splendid orchestra, I agreed completely, and it's fair to say that over the next two-and-three-quarters hours, that feeling almost never waned.

At Friday's nearly sold-out performance of Over the Tavern at Richmond Hill's Barn Theatre, I found myself seated next to a charming couple who engaged me in conversation. I asked whether they had heard of the play previously, as Tom Dudzick's comedy was unfamiliar to me. The gentleman responded that he'd read a little bit about it, but his wife said, "Not me. I like being surprised."

Melissa McBain's drama Altar Call, currently playing at Playcrafters' Barn Theatre, is beautifully unresolved. There are many fine elements in this production - along with some not-so-fine ones - yet I was impressed by McBain's willingness to let the drama linger after its close. She introduces potentially volatile subject matter such as adultery, homosexuality, and the dogmatic elements of scripture, yet doesn't attempt to provide easy answers to the play's complexities.

In episode 72 of Gilligan's Island, Hollywood director Harold Hecuba pays a visit and the castaways stage a musical version of Hamlet to try to impress him. For Michael King, who has watched all 98 episodes of the show multiple times, that plotline is a metaphor.