Aristophanes’ “The Wasps” is an ancient Greek comedy, premiered over 2,400 years ago, but even without modernizing has a stinging contemporary relevance.
It is Genesius Guild’s final play of the season, which continues the local tradition of capping things off with a modern adaptation of a classic Greek play. It’s fitting that this is the second season the updating has been handled by the wacky Haus of Ruckus, directed by its leaders T Green and Calvin Vo.
As in his other early plays, in “The Wasps” (representing people addicted to jury duty), Aristophanes satirizes the Athenian general and demagogue Cleon. He also ridicules the courts, one of the institutions that provided Cleon his power.
In the madcap Genesius version, the wealthy layabout Philokleon (David Weaver) is unlike most Americans – obsessed with serving on juries and always issuing guilty verdicts. In an attempt to break this addiction, his son, the frustrated Phobokleon (Mel Maylum) locks his father in his house, and the Wasps (a chorus of four with yellow Wasp toys) all follow the unseen figurehead Kleon and try to free the father.
The breezily entertaining Genesius update – packed with modern references, from social media and podcasts to George Santos and imagining Andrew Wold’s trial – is just an hour long, without intermission.
One of my favorite parts of the show is the opening, when slaves Xanthias (Jacob Lund) and Sosias (Olivia Akers) sing a self-deprecating parody of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” saying they’re working “7 to 7:45” and one line opines the authors “crapped out this script.”
They even bring on a stage manager (Julia Sears) at her wit’s end, for this very light-hearted, silly show within a show, and note “Dolly didn’t ask for this.”
Weaver gives a manic, uninhibited performance as the trial addict (we still have many dueling courtroom reality and fictional shows on TV), and “The Wasps” builds to its climax (as in the original) with a trial where Weaver is actually the judge.
Maylum as his son offers to turn the house into a courtroom and to pay him a juror’s fee to judge domestic disputes. In the original Aristophanes, Philocleon agrees, and a case is soon brought before him—a dispute between the household dogs. One dog (who looks like Cleon) accuses the other dog (who looks like Laches) of stealing a Sicilian cheese and not sharing it.
At Genesius Guild, there’s a stuffed animal dog, and two of the Wasp actors play dogs on trial (Mr. Dinkles and Bunky), and there’s even a round of cheese that takes the stand. One of my favorite lines is, “This lactose intolerance cannot go unpunished.”
Wiz Woolley, Joe Sager, Katie Phillips, and Nathan Elgatian, look like they’re having a ball playing the Wasps (plus one other part each, including Elgatian as Aristophanes).
Akers really distinguished herself this season, enthusiastically playing major roles in all four summer productions, which is fairly rare. Woolley also was on stage in all four shows.
The verdict? Genesius is guilty of excelling in this guilty pleasure, topped off with what Genesius calls “the traditional chase.” Its meaning is unclear, but the feeling of chaos seems right.
“The Wasps” will conclude with free performances Saturday and Sunday (July 29-30) at 7 p.m., at Lincoln Park Classic Theatre, 1120 40th St., Rock Island. For more information, visit the Genesius website HERE.