Robin Hood – HT Review
Review: Doing good in the Hood, Robin steals the show
By Connie Shakalis
April 1, 2018
Book-ended shows — where the play’s first moments are repeated, differently, at the finale — always capture me. It’s a technique that wraps the play into a tidy package, reminding me of how the story began and of its detours.
The curtain speech barely over, Friday night at the John Waldron Arts Center auditorium, beggars creep out of a smoky Sherwood Forest, asking the front and second rows of audience for “anything I can eat.” The children assembled to see Cardinal Stage Company’s “Robin Hood” are now enthralled. Some parents, too.
The beggars are hungry because old England’s reprobate Prince John has either stolen their land or otherwise denied them sustenance. “There’s plenty of supper walkin’ around the forest,” says Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz as a villager seeking a fat juicy deer.
The sheriff of Nottingham (Scott Van Wye) arrives, chest puffed and nose in the still-smoky air. To their pleas of “I beg you,” he scoffs: “Of course you do; you’re a beggar.”
When the villagers mention Robin Hood (a dashing Devin May), the sheriff says of his archenemy, “He’s a rotten do-gooder,” and we spend the next hour delighting in evil versus good. A splendid hour it is, as insults fly, a dog, Charle-mange, rides in a wagon, a maiden (Courtney Relyea-Spivack) gets kissed and kidnapped and swords bump and break. One snapped in two Friday night, as every audience-child’s eye grew as round as a dessert plate. One delight of attending children’s theater is watching those unpredictable little faces. “No one cried. I can’t believe it,” said a woman near me.
Kate Galvin, Cardinal’s artistic director and director of this play, had cautioned the audience not to leave the auditorium to go to the restroom “during the sword fights.” She wasn’t kidding.
Two stars of her “Robin Hood” are Erin Gautille’s set and Van Wye as the sheriff; both are colorful, surprising, imaginative and unforgettable. Gautille dresses the stage with life-size forest trees that light up from within — turning red at the killing of the sheriff — as well as a swinging footbridge, a rope-and-branch ladder and every kid’s dream treehouse.
“The actors can’t wait to play on the set,” Galvin said as it was being constructed last month.
Van Wye can do just about anything theatrical, and this performer is going places. Watch for him.
Relyea-Spivack’s Maid Marian had us laughing and “ahhh”-ing. I enjoyed her English accents, too. As the arrogant, ineffectual Prince John, Jay Hemphill clutches Duckie, his rubber companion, and produces laughter throughout, from child and grownup. His bathing in gold coins as delightful sycophant Kunkel-Ruiz scrubs his back is divine comedy. He is also very funny when combined with Van Wye.
Galvin uses plenty of combat, and fight choreographer Brian Cowden kept the action exciting — and safe. Galvin’s having Robin Hood use his bow as a fake Maid Marian is endearing. As he kisses his bow, we imagine his thoughts. Speaking of kissing, there is plenty of it for Maid Marian, and the audience’s little girls seemed to relish it, as the boys — I heard little-boy groans — seemed to eschew it.
Greg Banks wrote this version of “Robin Hood,” of which there are many. His held the interest of 3-year-olds — and others — Friday evening, and that says a lot.
No one knows if Robin Hood really existed, but people like him must have — and do. What became of England’s 12th (or earlier) century do-gooder? As Relyea-Spivack said at the finale, “Maybe he’s still out there.”
I hope so.