Genesius Guild's Julius Caesar (photo by Capturing Fireflies Photography)

Keeping an eye on forecasts for days in advance, I was sure that severe thunderstorms were going to wash out Genesius Guild's opening-night performance of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. But they didn't, and with my umbrella, I went, I watched, I liked it.

This Caesar was an ultra-famous, history-twisting dictator about 2,070 years ago, and his name is still synonymous with "leader" in Germanic (Kaiser) and Slavic languages (Tsar). He had a child with Cleopatra (yeah, that Cleopatra), whom she called "Little Caesar" (not even kidding). This historic tragedy is about his ultra-famous murder. (Spoiler alert?) But you don't need to know ancient history or Shakespeare to enjoy director Alaina Pascarella's production in Rock Island's Lincoln Park.

Journalist/actor Brian Wellner, who just finished a run as Jason in the Guild's Greek tragedy Medea, plays Caesar skillfully with a disarming, amiable, regular-guy vibe. Yet he's still a leader: ambitious, arrogant at times, and duplicitous. A description, to be fair, that could apply to other characters here. Most of them are also head-shakingly fickle, changing their minds more often than Queen Elizabeth II changed hats. Andrew Bruning's compelling Brutus also seems a likable, reasonable sort – in demeanor, anyway. Whether it's okay to conspire to kill one of your oldest friends, ostensibly for the greater good, is debatable.

The wonderful Kate Farence portrays Cassius (of the famed "lean and hungry look"), who fears that Caesar's kingship/dictatorship will end Rome's democracy (and it did). Kate Almquist, skilled far beyond her years, plays army general and Caesar's loyal friend Antony (yeah, that Antony), for whom I felt both sympathy and admiration. Antony's heartfelt yet manipulative speech after Caesar's death contrasts very nicely with Brutus' preceding earnest, almost conversational eulogy. And those in smaller roles employ refreshing touches in their portrayals. Rylie King, as Brutus' servant Lucius, employs a mild lower-class English accent which, though not overtly comedic, lightens the mood a bit. Fourteen actors in the 19-member cast play multiple roles; many of them are soldiers in Act II, who shout like tennis players while handling their spears. Their battle is an impressively staged scene, thanks to fight choreographer Lily Blouin. And the overall pace of the production is good, with entrances for each scene almost immediately following the exits of the previous one; the whole show, with intermission, lasts about two hours.

Costume designer Shannon Ryan created a few dozen often-flowy ensembles, some enlivened with gold or red trim. I particularly appreciated Antony's crimson robe with a sheer black-and-purple drape; the soldiers' kilt-like armor, some copper-colored, some with leather-looking torsos; the vivid robin's-egg-blue outfit Eden Myers wore as Portia; and the striking lavender getup Octavius (Charles Budan) wore near the end of the show. Set designer Matthew Callahan employed the flats on either side of the stage as sand-colored walls bearing the citizens' varied graffitied opinions of Caesar, topped by red eagle banners and "SPQR," standing for the Latin for "Roman Senate and People" – spelling out the plot's very conflict. Meanwhile, the center arches were dressed in stately stone grays, with columns for show and low platforms for versatility in movement.

I felt some sprinkles at intermission, which seemed ominous for Julius Caesar's Act II, but unlike the script's meteors, ghosts, and lions having cubs in the streets foreshadowing Caesar's assassination, the droplets did not portend the heavens opening. Rather, a guy in a Panama hat calmly Swiffered up the blood from Act I. (The show is extremely stabby, but the visual gore level is low – just some slightly bloody hands and a stained toga.) As I do every summer, I marvel at the skills and stamina of cast, crew, and staff who work in multiple Genesius Guild shows per season. For example, Lena Slininger played the title character Medea in the previous show, and she takes on four small roles here. A packed schedule means overlapping rehearsals, and few of them, and the climate here is decidedly not controlled, often making costume-wearing and -changing very uncomfortable. Trust me.

Unfortunately, the ever-present, ever-uncontrollable non-theatrical sound here was particularly obnoxious: insects and wind howling in the trees; some nearby, oblivious plebes conversing throughout Act I; a little thunder; train horns; and – alas, poor actors! – no human voice can compete with the screaming jets from the Quad City Air Show. Hats off to Bruning and Budan, who deployed two of the loudest, clearest voices. Most actors spoke at least loudly enough to be understood; a few need to work on projection. In no other local venue is this more vital. But at least it didn't rain!

The whole Julius Caesar experience was absorbing enough to make me forget the extreme heat, and only as I pulled out of my parking spot to drive home did I see the first flash of lightning. Weather forecasts are by their nature uncertain, but you can be certain that the hard-working volunteers of Genesius Guild have created another evening of solid entertainment for our very own Shakespeare in the Park.


Genesius Guild's Julius Caesar runs in Lincoln Park (1120 40th Street, Rock Island IL) through June 30, and more information is available by visiting

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