This year's end-of-season Greek comedy by Genesius Guild, The Acharnians, is high on political humor, musical numbers, and sharply funny barbs at the expense of local organizations - especially Genesis Health System and Trinity Regional Health System (now UnityPoint Health) - and the cities of Moline, Davenport, and Rock Island. And I was smiling from ear to ear during almost the entirety of Saturday's performance, tickled by the clever jokes, amusing songs, and even the groan-worthy puns.
As usual, playwright and director Don Wooten throws Aristophanes' plot almost completely out the window, infusing the author's play with timely humor. Wooten holds to a basic storyline regarding the Acharnians, who are essentially Athens' city-council members, and are holding a meeting in which they're asked to vote on something to do with farm subsidies. Populated entirely by female actors - because, as we're told, the NSA has been reading Genesius Guild's programs and noted that there are too many parts for men - this panel plans to vote on cutting the defense budget in order to approve raises for themselves, a vote which will not take place until after the audience leaves, and "leaves early." (This is an oft-used joke in Genesius Guild's season-enders about the audience being so unhappy with the "lame" gags in the script that they'll walk out before the end of the show.)
Calvin Vo, with his usual arresting stage presence, portrays Dikaiopolis, the figure who opens the comedy - after being interrupted by a hilarious Wooten cameo - and sets up the plot. He's soon joined by Doug Adkins' Herald, who is often befuddled by a failed sound cue, and by the delightful Acharnians, played with perky confidence by Amanda Wales, Rowan Crow, Katie Ross, Sarah Ebener, Kathryn Wherry, Kayla McKay, and Anna Tunnicliff, who deserves her own props for successfully juggling three balls while crossing the stage in the play's opening march. The group also performs one of Wooten's most enjoyable songs (and there are several), in which they argue for the addition of musicals to Genesius Guild's lineup because they will draw bigger crowds ... and higher donations.
Wooten's production then introduces a stream of vibrant characters. There's Jason Dlouhy's endearingly awkward and regal Amphitheus, who received a dishonorable discharge from the Salvation Army because, as he says, "They asked, and I told." Bryan Woods' bravado and booming vocals fit the military leader Lamachos perfectly as he argues against defense-budget cuts. Alex Brown, Andy Curtiss, Michael Phillips, Mischa Hooker, and Dlouhy entertain as familiar right-wing columnists with their own song, one that both sets up and mocks their own personalities.
Scott Tunnicliff earns plenty of laughs with his German-accented Kissingher, and his arrival is followed by that of Melita Tunnicliff's comically mechanical oracle Shambyses, whose head is a large eye resembling the CBS logo, and who - representing mainstream media (I think) - spouts indirect answers to questions following an enjoyable sort of robotic jig. Melita's best joke is her answer to a question about whether or not Congress will pass an immigration bill, when Shambyses responds with the deflection "We believe in a bipartisan Congress." (When asked what that means, Tyler Henning's poised John Kerry answers, "Actually, nothing.")
Dustin Oliver's pompous, cigar-chomping, Mafia-like Rush Slimeball goes toe-to-toe in a sexual-harassment-filled conversation with Irene Herzig's educated yet condescending Essie Test. Then follows one of the comedy's highlights, a musical number pitting Genesis against Trinity (represented by Sue Staley and Dee Canfield) in a parody of "Anything You Can Do" from Annie Get Your Gun, which here starts with the line "Anyone you can cure, I can cure better." Their number is equaled in entertainment value by Neil Friberg's, Andy Curtiss', and Alex Brown's trio as the feuding, human embodiments of Davenport, Moline, and Rock Island, in which Curtiss' Moline sings about his respectability while Friberg's Davenport hails his superiority. (Prior to the song, Friberg's character requests a name change for the Quad Cities, preferring they be called "Davenport, etc.") And a third, equally delightful song features Earl Strupp, Amanda Wales, Michael Phillips, Katie Ross, and Mischa Hooker as theatre reviewers who sing, in impressive counterpoint, about how much, and why, they hate Wooten's play.
The proceedings wrap up with Henning returning as Pericles (imagined as a version of Barack Obama), Bob Hanske and Austin Swanson mocking the Koch brothers as Chuck and Davy Kochie, and the introduction of Michael Miller in a drag get-up that's so funny, half of his lines were unheard under the audience's laughter. Unfortunately for the Acharnians, they did not get to vote on their pay raises, as not a single person (that I noticed) left Genesius Guild's The Acharnians early. The production easily warrants staying through to its end for its abundance of humor, wit, and its peppering of puns.
The Acharnians runs at Lincoln Park (11th Avenue and 38th Street, Rock Island) through August 4, and more information is available by visiting Genesius.org.