Joe Sager, Lena Slininger, Lillie Estes, Avalon Willowbloom, and Karen Riffey in Medea

Saturday night was possibly the most perfect night, weather-wise, I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience during a Genesius Guild show … even though the gnats were something else, and apparently immune to insect repellent. Buggy night notwithstanding, the Lincoln Park stage has never looked better: With freshly painted arches and some ghostly trees on the furthest front flats, set designer Miranda Callahan’s work on Medea was interesting enough to generally distract me from pesky pests.

The plot is easily comprehensible, and through the course of the evening, Don Wooten adapted Euripides’ classical text beautifully. The poetry of the language is retained, yet one isn’t forced to read between the lines, as the characters speak in familiar vernacular. But if you’d like to know what you’re getting into, Medea is married to Jason, who has left her for the princess of Corinth. An angry and scorned Medea consequently seeks revenge to hit Jason where it hurts. This Greek tragedy is truly tragic.

Because Medea is Genesius Guild’s seasonal Greek tragedy, it's performed in mask. Designed by Jacob Lund and constructed by Bob Hanske, the masks all featured a metallic bronze skin tone that looked amazing under Josef Bodenbender’s lights. What was unusual for this production, however, was how director Michael Callahan utilized the masks: Characters were just as likely to hold their masks while speaking, or to not even have them with them on stage at all, as they were to be wearing them. Personally, I've always appreciated Genesius Guild’s commitment to the traditional Greek face covering, but this middle-of-the-road approach to their employment worked particularly well.

Nadia Esparza, Whitney Brown, Guy Cabell, Avalon Willowbloom, and Karen Riffey in Medea

Honestly, it would have been a shame to completely miss out on the facial expressions Lena Slininger was putting out there as Medea. If looks could kill, there wouldn’t really have been need to keep the show going past the opening character parade where everyone picked up their masks. While Slininger may have been the last one to get hers, she commanded the stage immediately. She has a marvelous presence that makes you sympathize with Medea – there was never a moment in which I missed anything she was saying, either. Admittedly, with the exception of a train whistle blasting once and some park visitors who apparently couldn’t read that the playground closed at 7 p.m., the ambient noise wasn’t crazy on Saturday, but I wager Slininger’s projection could compete with most anything and still easily keep your attention. I especially appreciated the moments of levity Slininger brought to the stage; her relatable one-liners elicited chuckles from more than one audience member.

The contrast to Medea’s wrath was Brian Wellner’s easygoing Jason. It was almost comical how matter-of-fact he was about having recently swapped wives and lives, expecting everyone else to just be okay with that. (Not surprisingly, the rejected Medea never came around to Jason’s way of thinking.) Wellner eventually shows more emotion as the show continues, and his display of grief is touching.

Medea and Jason’s children, played by Whitney Brown and Nadia Esparza, brought balance to the stage between their parents' extremely contrasting emotional states. I loved that Lund and Hanske created masks for them that were perfect miniatures of their parents’ in respect to hair and eye coloring; I super-appreciate attention to detail like that. These two kiddos were most often seen tossing rag dolls back and forth, but there were a few moments in which they somewhat participated with the chorus. Those bits could have used more polish, though, given that I wasn’t sure if the kids were attempting to join in with the chorus or were mocking them.

Medea masks and Colchis Bull

Made up of Avalon Willowbloom, Karen Riffey, Lillie Estes, and Mollie Schmelzer, Medea's chorus was a delightfully cohesive unit. They didn’t spend as much time speaking in unison as I would typically expect from a Greek chorus, but I didn’t mind how each member of the chorus was given their own opportunity to shine. Thanks to Shannon Ryan’s lovely costume design, the chorus looked sharp in their simple white robes with purple accents, which helped distinguish them from the rest of the cast.

Another highlight of Ryan’s costumes was Medea’s golden look toward the end – which was also a highlight of the production all around, as some of the action left the stage and brought the sun from the stage and a background with it. While the “dead” bodies were incredibly wiggly (perhaps they, too, were being attacked by the gnats?), having Medea mixed in with these people while leaving Jason on stage was a fabulous choice by director Callahan, as it created a true “Everyone vs. Jason” mentality for a few minutes. Was Medea’s reaction extreme? You bet. Yet somehow, in this production, you kind of see her point.

Saturday's opening-night production wasn’t entirely perfect. There were a few line slip-ups and the aforementioned “dead”-body re-animations. But apart from the bugs – which is in no way in Genesius Guild’s control – it’s safe to say Medea is both an approachable and entertaining success.


Genesius Guild's Medea runs in Lincoln Park (1120 40th Street, Rock Island IL) through June 16, and more information is available by visiting

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