Saturday's opening-night production of Aristophanes' The Knights, which closes Genesius Guild's summer season and runs through this weekend, began with a few words from Guild founder - and uncredited Knights scribe - Don Wooten, and it's hard to imagine the evening commencing on a more charming note.

Along with giving a brief history of how and why the Guild does what it does, Wooten provided a welcome, entertainingly informative back story to this Greek comedy. He explained that the politically charged The Knights was, at the time of its debut in 424 B.C., "a vicious attack" on democratic leader Creon, and that a revival of the play would have been "a slam dunk" 10 years ago, when President Clinton was in office.

"Well," asked Wooten, to the delight of Lincoln Park's patrons, "what are we gonna do this year?"

What Wooten has done in his adaptation is turn The Knights into a liberal Democrat's dream show, a freewheeling, proudly ridiculous, gloriously unpretentious goofball comedy that makes no bones about either its political agenda or its modernization.

After the amusing, self-mocking opening procession, in which the dramatis personae march past in their intentionally low-rent costumes, the production begins with Nikias (Bob Hanske) and Demosthenes (Scott Tunnicliff) lamenting the results of the 2004 presidential election, and what follows is a mad onslaught of pop-culture (and Quad Cities-culture) references, political jibes, slapstick chases, and musical numbers ... and it all clocks in at just under an hour. By the finale, The Knights doesn't resemble Aristophanes so much as a local-cable version of Laugh-In.

To describe the show is to risk making it sound bizarre to the point of insanity, but The Knights is filled with so many good ideas that several deserve mention: the arrival of the knights, wearing deliberately tacky horse heads - they look like woolly winter caps with ears glued on - who dismount their steeds, appropriately, by removing their head-pieces; the presentation a TV news program, hosted by anchors Jack A and Jack S ("Because it takes jacks or better to open!"), which becomes a stinging rebuke to Fox News; a staged sequel to Hamlet, in which the fates of Shakespeare's characters are revealed to a visitor arriving late. (Hamlet? "Dead." Ophelia? "Dead." Claudius? "Deader than the rest.") Wooten throws just about every level of parody into his mix, and while some of his satirical targets aren't very fresh - the announcement of an "Athenian Idol" contest made a man sitting near me mutter, "Oh, God ... " - the show has a jolly spirit and is often really smart; sketch comedies are nearly always hit-or-miss affairs, and The Knights features far more hits than misses.

Would that the cast performed Wooten's script with the necessary vigor! But with only a few exceptions - Jake Walker and David Wooten as those oblivious anchormen, Patti Flaherty (so good in Playcrafters' recent Enchanted April) as the deus ex machina - the actors looked confused and ill-prepared, and their half-hearted delivery makes a lot of the playwright's lines and comedic situations incoherent; the laughs in The Knights come from the material rather than the presentation of the material. (I have no doubt that the show reads much funnier than it plays.) Director Peggy Hanske does what she can to make the lesser performers come off better than they should - having weaker actors play intentionally bad actors is usually a pretty wise move - but you can't help but wish that Genesius Guild's The Knights was given the comic punch that Don Wooten's often-ingenious script deserves.

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