‘Robin Hood' in Fullerton is a cerebral take on a familiar tale
Robin Hood, that heroic outlaw of English folklore, has been the focus of so many retellings, primarily in film, that we're likely to feel we've seen them all.
So, Robin Hood fans, hold onto your quivers – because "The Legend of Robin Hood" spins a whole new tale more intricate yet more realistic than anything seen before.
In his original script, now in its world premiere at Fullerton's Maverick Theater, Nathan Makaryk not only brings familiar characters to the stage as believable people rather than fictional figures; he also debunks much of the apocrypha that grew up around the Robin Hood legend.
The first thing one notices about this new version is how it destroys the almost knee-jerk concept of "good guys" and "bad guys." The man who comes to be known as Robin Hood is shorn of almost all altruism, while the feelings and motives of Baron Roger DeLacy, the supposedly evil Sheriff of Nottingham, are revealed, making him more human.
We're in Nottinghamshire, England, circa 1190. Robin of Locksley (Frank Tryon), a nobleman's son, and buddy William DeWendenal (Michael Keeney), are returning home after having served as guards to King Richard the Lionhearted during the latter's Crusades.
During their absence, the citizenry has chafed under Richard's younger brother, King John, and before they know it, they're embroiled in a web of sociopolitical intrigue that ensnares all levels of English society.
To try to describe the story's details from this point on would be a fool's errand. Suffice it to say that this swashbuckling production has it all – colorful and absorbing characters, compelling ideas, and enough laughs, tears, physical action and dramatic plotting to satisfy anyone.
As director, Makaryk generates pulse-pounding excitement – yet this is a meditative "Robin Hood" that forces us to question human nature and the motives of anyone who assumes the mantle of power. Equally fascinating is how Makaryk uses realistic events to show how the legend of Robin Hood grew and became a vital part of folklore.
Makaryk's ambitions couldn't be realized without a production to support them and a game cast equally skilled in character exposition and the physical demands of swordplay and hand-to-hand combat.
Makaryk's scenic design sets the stage, a misty patch of thick forestry representing Sherwood Forest but upon which other locales are overlaid. The play's look and feel are bolstered by Heidi Newell's colorful, attractive, well-detailed period costumes, Jim Book's lighting, David Chorley's sound design, and Makaryk's intricately choreographed fight scenes.
The cast's performances are impassioned yet restrained. Frank Tryon is smiling, relaxed and confident as the cool-headed, quick-witted Robin Hood. Among the story's most intriguing figures are those closest to Robin: DeWendenal and Lady Marian.
In Keeney's superb work as DeWendenal, we see a man deeply conflicted – cocky one moment, doubt-riddled the next. Andrea Dennison-Laufer delivers an elegant, noble and truly wise Lady Marian.
Robin's polar opposite is the feisty, hotheaded Will Scarlet (an outstanding Jaycob Hunter), who believes only in striking back with full force against any perceived enemy. Throughout the story, Will is ever in Robin's face, challenging and confronting him.
As DeLacy, the reluctant sheriff, Glenn Freeze blends cultured diction and an elegant bearing with a high comic style that includes cranky irritation as events start to spin out of his control.
Even the humanity of the bloodthirsty Guy of Gisbourne, well played by Scott Keister with dark gleams of malice, is shown when he expresses regret for slaying a child member of Robin's band. David Chorley's DeFerrers, meanwhile, is chillingly ruthless, his solemnity masking a devious, power-hungry nature.
Sabrina Zellars shows Elena Gamwell to be as fierce, defiant and passionate as her sweetheart, Will Scarlet. Elisa Richter delivers a stirring portrayal of Arable, the lovely servant girl who loves DeWendenal in vain.
Many of the scenes depicting Robin and his men are funny, warm and winning. Larry Creagan's John Little is a lumbering yet saturnine and reflective giant. Gabriel Robins' thick Irish accent buoys his portrayal of a philosophical Friar Tuck. Jeremy Krasovic's Alan-a-Dale, who joined Robin for "fun," now realizes a paralyzing fear of death.
As with all well-written stories depicting a dispute, each side is shown to believe in the rightness of its cause. Makaryk skillfully advances the crucial theme that characters like "Robin" and "the Sheriff" were actually more potent as concepts than as individuals.
And, as the play seems nearly over, we're given a shocking and bloody climax, a spectacular denouement, and a twist ending that launches a new "legend of Robin Hood" and continues that fabled, fabulous tale forward to our times. How apt for such a smashing new handling of the now-immortal folk hero.
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