Saturday, July 30, through Sunday, August 7
Lincoln Park, 1120 40th Street, Rock Island IL
For the first time since the organization's inception more than 60 years ago, the traditional end-of-summer comedy presented by Genesius Guild – a one-act slapstick adapted from a classical-Greek text, and one boasting songs, puns, modern pop- and local-culture references, and a climactic chase – is not being written by Guild founder Don Wooten. Running July 30 through August 7, the company's latest comedic revamp of Aristophanes' The Frogs is instead being written, and directed, by T. Green and Calvin Vo. And if you're aware of the pair's accomplishments both on and off the Guild stage in Rock Island's Lincoln Park, you'll likely agree that the hiring choice is truly inspired.
To begin with, both Green and Vo are Guild veterans: Green performed in The Trojan Women and Much Ado About Nothing; Vo in Twelfth Night and Coriolanus; and both are currently cast (as Demetrius and Lysander, respectively) in the classical-theatre organization's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Green and Vo also appeared together in another of Guild's season-ending comedies by Aristophanes: The Birds, in 2016.
But it's their co-creation of the stage company Haus of Ruckus – whose original plays “Jacques”alope and “Pants” Labyrinth have enjoyed presentations at Davenport venue the Mockingbird on Main – that might really make Green and Vo the best fit for adapting and helming The Frogs. Not only have the duo's comedies been rife with goofy situations, witty wordplay, and a healthy dose of self-mockery, just like Guilds', but “Pants” indulged in more than a few nods to Greek theatre – and featured one of The Frogs' principal characters, to boot.
“It was funny,” says Green, “because we were working on 'Pants' when we were also initially working on The Frogs. So it was weird to open the [Frogs] script and realize, 'Oh, Dionysus is in this, too!' There was something really fun and cool about writing Dionysus, as a character, in two different ways in two different scripts.”
“It was also weird,” adds Vo, “because when we had been interviewed during 'Jacques,' people were asking, 'So what's next?' And we were like, 'It's gonna be ancient Greece and disco.' We had figured out the story for 'Pants.' We knew the characters. But as we started writing, we saw that lots of different Greek things were coming up, like, in the same moment. We were writing 'Pants' and The Lightning Thief went up [at Moline's Spotlight Theatre] and Guild wanted us to write this comedy … . We were like, 'This is all sort of weirdly familiar.'”
To those acquainted with The Frogs, “Pants” Labyrinth may have occasionally felt weirdly familiar, too, as the Aristophanes play sends the god Dionysus and his servant Xanthias to Hades on a mission to retrieve Euripides, and the Green and Vo play sends best buds Fungus and Johnny to the titular realm on a mission to retrieve a missing pair of slacks. (It's a long story, and a hilarious one.) Yet it was actually Haus of Ruckus' stage predecessor that landed Green and Vo their latest gig.
“A couple people from Genesius Guild saw 'Jacques'alope,” says Green, “and they came up and were basically like, 'Hey, you should write the [Guild] comedy. And we were like, 'That'd be cool.' And a couple months later, they got in touch again, and were like, 'Hey, do you really want to write the comedy?' And we were like, 'Sure!' And we've been working on it since.”
“They really put a lot of trust in us,” Vo says, “saying, 'We think you're funny, we think you're good writers, we think you guys can do it.'”
Because Genesius Guild has produced the comedy numerous times over the years, most recently in 2007 and 2012, there were a lot of Don Wooten versions of The Frogs – plus Aristophanes' ancient-Greek text – from which to draw inspiration.
Says Vo, “Don, of course, adapted it however many years ago, and every time Guild updates it, they update it from Don's original script. So Guild gave us the original version and several different versions of Don's scripts to look over, and said, 'Come up with something and show it to us, and we'll let you know if it works.'
“What we wanted to do,” Vo continues, “was write a script that we enjoyed and thought was funny, but we also recognized that we were writing a script for another established group. So we wanted to sort of capture the flavor of Genesius Guild while still writing it through our voices.”
“We were trying to keep the sensibilities of the original script while still bringing ourselves to it,” adds Green, “and we knew there were things people would expect. Like, people who were familiar with the [season-ending] comedy – as they were reading the initial sides of the script, they were like, 'Uh … you gotta have a chase in there.' So yeah, we're keeping the funny chase, but it's sort of seen through the lens of our humor and our personalities.”
“And we do have songs,” says Vo. “But they may not be the ones that people recognize. It's not that we feel beholden (to the traditional Guild format). It feels more like we get to write a comedy in that style. And it's fun to use our style and see how to apply it … or if it even applies here. Or if we can bend it to make it mesh on the Genesius stage. And with our styles, a lot of things are really similar, actually. There's a lot of meta-theatre going on, and self-referentiality, and nothing's too serious. But it's been fun to take some liberties and change some references and conventions. Like, 'How do you do this particular convention in 2022?'”
“A cool thing about Greek comedies,” says Green, “is that you realize that character dynamics in comedy have been the same since all those years ago. Like 'pompous leader paired with witty assistant.' That's still a comedy trope to this day. And there's something fun about getting to play with traditional, older styles of character dynamics and comedy dynamics that we grew up enjoying, and asking ourselves, 'How can we write these, but in our way?' Because this is our first play together where the main characters aren't self-inserts.”
Green is referring to the Haus of Ruckus characters of Fungus and Johnny, whom Green and Vo portrayed in both “Jacques”alope and “Pants” Labyrinth, and whom are presumably modeled on people not unlike the authors. But just because The Frogs' protagonists are Dionysus and Xanthias, don't presume you consequently won't be seeing Green and Vo.
“This will sounds more egotistical than it is,” says Vo, “but we are in it, and initially, we weren't planning to be in it. But as we were writing … .” He trails off. “I don't know. You'll see. We don't feature in the show in any particularly lengthy way.”
In addition to the playwrights themselves, Green's and Vo's production of The Frogs will boast a cast featuring Olivia Akers, Guy Cabell, Kathy Calder, Nathan Elgatian, Jacob Lund, Jeremy Mahr, Katie Phillips, Max Robnett, Shannon Ryan, Erica Seabloom, Haley Woolley, and Guild's executive director Isabel Dawson, who also serves as producer and props designer. And with Liz Sager acting as stage manager, the show's creative team includes assistant stage manager Kayla Brix, technical director Andy Shearouse, choreographer Lily Blouin
But while The Frogs will be much like the silly, cheeky, summer-ending slapsticks Guild patrons have become accustomed to, Green and Vo stress that their production won't be precisely like those in the past, at least in regard to Don Wooten's much-loved – and sometimes -feared – tendency to poke sweetly vicious fun at area politicians, institutions, and even Guild itself.
“That was definitely a part of the writing process,” admits Vo, “where we were like, 'Okay, what do we do about this?' Because as writers, we aren't particularly roast-spirited, and don't naturally write that way. What we poke fun of is usually ourselves. And so we were very nervous about doing a full-on 'roast' style. But I think that we found a happy medium. You will still hear familiar names and go 'Oh, I've been there!' or 'I know that!' or 'That's something I've interacted with in the Quad Cities theatre scene!' But maybe not necessarily in a way that will lead to anyone sending us a strongly worded e-mail.”
Genesius Guild's The Frogs will be staged in Lincoln Park July 30 through August 7, with all performances at 7 p.m., and donations encouraged for the free performances. For more information, visit Genesius.org.