Somewhere near the midpoint of Genesius Guild's Peace, the leading character Trygaeus - as characters routinely do in Lincoln Park's late-summer slapsticks - suddenly realizes that the play he's in doesn't really have a plot. One of his scene partners, though, tells him that perhaps that's a good thing. After all, if they don't have a plot, "maybe we won't get reviewed." Nice try, Guild.
What that hopeful soul didn't add is that even if the show were critiqued by the duly acknowledged "Thom, David, and Jonathan" (or, y'know, someone else), it wouldn't matter in the slightest. Because as frequenters of these season-closers know, there are no other plays in the area, or likely on Earth, as wholly review-proof as director/adapter Don Wooten's Greek-comedy spoofs. With their cheeky swipes at pop culture, jabs at local and national politicians, references to area landmarks and media fixtures, song parodies, dancing girls, and climactic Mack Sennett chases blended with smidgens of their original texts (in Peace's case, Aristophanes' 421 BC comedy), Wooten's annual larks arrive pre-sold, and we audiences know just what we're in for. We also know that the genially self-effacing results will find their sources of humor slapdash and random, that as many gambits will end in groans as guffaws, and that the cast members, en masse, will amble through the proceedings like happy deer in headlights. Saying you'd appreciate these one-act entertainments more if they were more polished is like saying you'd appreciate water more if it weren't quite so wet.
Even under such endearingly goofy circumstances, there's no joy in watching actors struggle with lines, and, on a few occasions, Friday's under-rehearsed-by-necessity readings and stage actions led to moments of discomfort. (Whether it was the fault of a dropped cue or tardy entrance I don't know, but at one point there was an awkward, five-second silence before a character raced on stage and said, ironically, "I got here as fast as I could.") Yet more often than not, Peace's making-it-up-as-we-go-along vibe exuded a sprightly, sincere, talent-show charm. These mid-August staples aren't meant to be nights of lofty, ennobling theatuh; they're meant to be silly, celebratory, lampshade-on-the-head parties. And after back-to-back presentations of Oedipus Rex and Macbeth, who could begrudge Genesius Guild's participants or patrons for wanting to indulge in ridiculous wordplay, togas with sneakers, and the occasional Donald Trump gag?
Friday's production began, however, with music, as Michael Callahan, Mark Herrin, Gary Schocker, and Geoff Untiedt performed a barbershop-quartet salute to Genesius Guild's "Dirty Plays," a lyrics-by-Wooten ditty also employed in 2014's Plutus. Let's hear it for revivals: The song was a smile- and chuckle-inducing treat, and the foursome's later renditions of "My Wild Irish Rose" and their closing recognition of the Guild's impending 60th season were even more welcome. In general, there appeared to be fewer-than-usual musical numbers in Peace, but Tyler Henning's, Gary Adkins', and Stephen Laurel's opener was enjoyable, and I loved it when a trio of Techies (Hannah Rettig, Katherine Savely, and Kathryn Wherry) arrived to lyrically bemoan the shabby treatment of the Guild's behind-the-scenes talent, their names in show programs traditionally misspelled.
What plot there was concerned the oft-thwarted efforts of Trygaeus (Doug Adkins) to locate the kidnapped Peace (Melinda Turley), and while those who demand a solid narrative might've bristled - and were certainly attending the wrong production - this farcical odyssey kept yielding terrific things. Chief among them was the kidnapper War, who was played by Jacob Lund, a young (maybe middle-school?) actor slight in frame but grand in hilariously maniacal cackle. By design, the sketch-comedy nature of Wooten's slapsticks doesn't much allow for the building of characters, but Lund and several others reaffirmed that solidly constructed, very funny caricatures don't require additional building: James. J. Loula as an oiled-up, Austrian-accented bruiser who kept promising "I'll be ba-a-ack"; Chelsea Crumbleholme as a vacuously grinning Wheel of Fortune hostess; Ross Wherry as a blustery NRA proponent whose weapons of choice were rocks.
And oh, the throwaway nuttiness of it all! Jason Dlouhy's oversize toddler cleaning his ear with his baby bottle. The oversize wings, courtesy of costumers Ellen Dixon and Rowan Crow, on the shoes of Bob Hanske's Hermes. The crack about Les Misérables' local proliferation. Mischa Hooker delivering a mean-spirited Trump joke to end all mean-spirited Trump jokes. (I'm dying to spoil it, but won't.) The scream-and-dink! parody of Genesius Guild stage combat. Scott Tunnicliff's Damon Runyon-ese. The six-legged beetle. The Beetle Bailey cut-outs. The cameo by a Beatle. All I am saying is give Peace a chance.
Peace runs at Lincoln Park (11th Avenue and 38th Street, Rock Island) at 8 p.m. August 15 and 16, and more information is available by visiting Genesius.org.