Friday, Jun 23, 2017

The Heart of Robin Hood (2013)

Marion (Kate Hurster), disguised as Martin, finds life in the woods exhilarating. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

This play, which opened Saturday night at the Elizabethan, is a huge crowd-pleaser. Somewhat like a summer ‘tent-pole’ movie, it’s got a little bit of many things, calculated to delight the largest number of people. A revision of the old Robin Hood tale, which debuted at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon a few years ago, is stuffed full of Shakespearean memes which probably accounts for a great deal of the audience’s enjoyment.

Joel Sass directs this tale, centered on Marion (the talented Kate Hurster) a woman with no interest in following her guardian (Michael J. Hume)’s plan to marry her to the powerful, and power-mad, Prince John (Michael Elich, doing a fantastic job). Fleeing to the forest, she hopes to join Robin Hood (the ever-excellent John Tufts) and his band, only to discover that he is no shining example of nobility — he steals from the rich, yes but keeps it all for himself and his men. Moreover, he will allow no women in his band — they make men ‘messy’. Thwarted, she returns home, only to sneak out again, this time disguised as a youth — Martin of Sherwood — and with a plan to set herself up as the noble bandit. She steals from the rich, and gives it all away to the poor. She does it so well, that they come to her for help when Prince John threatens to hang a man and his family for not paying his taxes. Teaming up with Robin they fail to rescue the father, but save the children, creating a long involved sub-plot and a reason for the two bands to unite.

Marian’s boyish disguise leads to many mistaken identity twists, most of which are hilarious, and the evolution of love between Marian and Robin is elegantly traced by the actors. I especially loved the use of deaf actor Howie Seago’s wonderful comedic sense and effect — I was just griping to a friend the other day that I was tired of seeing him in ‘grumpy’ roles and just knew he would be great at comedy!  Michael Elich’s performance is tremendous — he’s a true villain and makes evil fun.

Love is at the heart of this play, and the characters all encounter love in various forms. In doing so, they are transformed. Prince John’s transformation is the briefest, as he says plaintively “You make me want to do good things,” but in the next scene is back to he bad old self. Marian and Robin must give up their illusions and overcome obstacles to find their love, becoming better people along the way.

I’m going to go against the grain here, but I didn’t particularly like this play, even though the actors did a wonderful job. I thought Cymbeline (whose gorgeous set they re-used) did a far better job of playing with themes of love and courage, supernatural beings, and family. A prominently displayed acrobat’s hoop seems to be there simply to create a lovely last image. It is a truly lovely image . . . but not worth leaving a hoop there for the entire play (and at least some audience members wondering just what it would be used for). The scene with the Green Man was meant to convey enchantment, but feels more like a troubled playwright reaching desperately for a gimmick to get out of a tricky spot. Despite fine acting, the timing and pace stuttered — I kept wishing this play had spent time being work-shopped so as to smooth out all of its flaws.

David Farr attempted to create an homage to Shakespeare, using a beloved child’s tale, but his writing just wasn’t up to the task. The OSF  actors did a wonderful job, and the kids will love this tale. Just don’t look too closely at the flaws and you’ll enjoy yourself too.