The Heart of Robin Hood, by The American Repertory Theater

The Heart of Robin Hood – Written by David Farr; Directed by Gisli Om Gardarsson; Music and Lyrics by Poor Old Shine, David Farr; Costumes by Emma
Ryott; Set Designer Borkur Jonsson. Presented by The American Repertory Theater
at the Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge, through Jan. 19th.

Coming on the heels of their Tony Award-winning production of ‘Pippin’, the
A.R.T. has once again shown that increasing the entertainment quotient of a
production can really energize a time worn story and catapult it into something
special, as they do with this clever retelling of the Robin Hood
tale, ‘The Heart of Robin Hood’. While ‘Pippin’ ramped up the action by substituting
circus performers for the performance troupe with spectacular results, ‘Robin
Hood’ adds music, an acrobatic cast and a nearly anthropomorphic set to amp up
the story. Watching this production is at times like watching a cross between a
circus and a 1940’s serial, only funnier and less melodramatic. Robin and his
band of  thieves (as well as the rest of
the play’s characters) come rappelling from the trees on ropes, pop out of the
ground in the stage’s meadow or come sliding down a grassy hillside (which also
doubles as the castle) to make their entrances. There are no “enter stage left” directions in
this playbook, as characters appear and disappear from everywhere conceivable.

The tale doesn’t start out with the Robin Hood (Jordan Dean) that we’re all familiar
with, the one who “steals from the rich to gives to the poor”. This
edition steals from the rich alright, but keeps the booty for himself and his
equally thuggish and not-so-merry men, at least until he meets his match –
romantic and otherwise – in the lovely and manically impulsive Maid Marian (Christina
Bennett Lind). With her father Richard the Lionheart fighting in the Crusades,
the evil and sadistic Prince John has taken control of the kingdom, raised
taxes to allegedly fund the war while lining his pockets (sound familiar?) and
aims to make the beautiful Marian his bride. She flees to the forest with her
effeminate and dutiful manservant Pierre (the hilarious Christopher Sieber) to
join up with Robin, but is rebuffed in her attempt to become part of the gang,
because as Robin tells his men early on in the play, “Women cause tempests in
the heart of man. They make us rash and unreliable.” Indeed. Besides, she
discovers that Robin Hood is really a scoundrel, but in the classic case of
“women loving the bad boys” she develops a thing for him anyway before
dejectedly returning to the castle.

Upon her return, she finds that John is an even lower form of life than was
previously apparent, and so she again returns to the forest, this time as
an (incredibly pretty) man, “Martin of Sherwood”, with a butched-up Pierre (now known as Big Peter) and
decides to compete with Robin Hood, but as one who DOES steal from the rich to
give to the poor. After the Robin and Marian/Martin fight nearly to the death
(in the best of many well-choreographed fight scenes) the two combine forces to
battle Prince John and save some heart-tugging orphans with some predictable
but fun twists and turns.

Other than the “Marian turns Robin to the Good” deviation, there
aren’t a lot of surprises here, but who needs them?  What separates this show from other theatrical
fare is the outrageousness of its staging. Following up on the circus
atmosphere of ‘Pippin’, the characters – 
including Little John (real life little person Jeremy Crawford); Will
Scathlock (local fave Zachary Eisenstat) and Gisborne’s Henchman/Soldier/Prison
Guard (Moe Alafrangy) – are like Olympic gymnasts doing floor exercises, with
aerial backflips and other feats of pure athleticism, especially during the
fight scenes. There is a lot of action centered on the ropes, from entrances
(as Robin’s men descend from the mighty oak trees to engage their unwitting
victims) to unjust hangings, and even some clever puppetry in one scene.

While this isn’t a musical, the band (Poor Old Shine) plays a large part in
the production. They actually begin the show as a kind of warm up act, and look
like a collection of elfen hipsters, which made me groan at first. While I was
trying to decide if the young band’s beards were even real (they appear to be
very young) they had won me over and end up being a vital part of the
experience. This is a really entertaining show for kids of all ages, with a
special appeal for middle aged ones like me. For more info, go to:


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