A retelling of a favorite folk tale is always fun, and it’s especially fun when the retelling is done in an upbeat, creative way. Such is the case with PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, which debuted this week — after a week-long hurricane-related delay — in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art.
Director Jessie Austrian, composer and music director Jack Herrick, and fight director Kara Wooten have teamed up to create a delightfully fast-paced spectacle, equally pleasing to the eye and ear. It is fitting that this story, which originated in the form of a variety medieval ballads, is presented in ballad form. Narration, accompanied by Herrick’s new music, led us into prominent scenes in the life of this legendary character. Skilled acting guided us further. Cornball jokes and visual gags kept us laughing.
This production includes many of the legend’s highlights, such as the “Stand aside and let a better man pass” introduction of Robin Hood to Little John and the archery contest for the golden arrow. Naturally, the Robin Hood theme of “He robbed the rich to give to the poor” pervades this retelling, and Ken Ludwig’s script stresses the aspects of defending the weak and downtrodden, crusading for social justice, and opposing tyranny. (And the preshow talk encourages modern-day audience members to join in the fight.)
This ensemble blends together well, with each actor complementing the others nicely; and Dan Toot is our “host,” playing the part of Friar Tuck (with all of the character’s mythical foibles); however, he also takes on the duties of storyteller or “balladeer,” prefacing each scene with narration. Toot shines at both tasks.
Ray Dooley’s Prince John is easy to love-to-hate as Dooley invests the character with flamboyant fussbudgetry. “Write it down” is one of the character’s catch-phrases, guaranteed to provoke laugh after laugh. And there is a final Prince John gag in the play’s epilogue for which we encourage you to listen closely.
Equally easy to love-to-hate is Jeffrey Blair Cornell’s Sir Guy of Gisbourne, who carries on a ruthless grudge-fueled crusade against our hero, backed up by the comically inept Sheriff of Nottingham (played to-the-hilt by Tristan Parks). The humor in this duo’s interchanges approaches vaudevillian heights at times.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The chemistry between this Maid Marian and this Robin Hood is unique and quite interesting. And you will not want to miss the comical one-upmanship and banter between the two.
We lost count of the instruments played by this talented cast; but the list includes guitar, cittern, banjo, trombone, French horn, keyboards, fiddle, and penny whistle. We thought we heard either a harmonica or a concertina, but we never saw either. Voices blend and harmonize, and the audience is seduced into joining in on occasion. Look for the medieval tune “Green Grow the Rushes, O,” and pay attention to subtle changes in its lyrics. The song’s refrain “One is one and all alone and ever more shall be so” emphasizes the need for solidarity in the “neverending battle for truth, justice, and the [medieval English] way.”
Scenic designer McKay Coble has rendered a multilevel set that includes circular-shaped platforms tinged with green. Seasoned with Rui Rita’s lighting designs (and judicious use of a variety of colors and gobos), the scene easily shifts form location to location. On occasion, the actors use creative means for moving from level to level.
Technical “special effects,” gadgetry, and gimmickry abound. Horsemen ride saw-horses with Monty Python-esque coconut sound effects. Arrows are “shot” from bows and “land” on unexpected targets. Creative use is made of a body of water on the downstage left section of the stage. 2″ x 8″‘s of various lengths morph into bridges, walls, ale-house bars, etc. And: wait until you see how PRC’s technical team signifies the burning of the castle!
Other Cute Aspects:
The show seems to start at the story’s end and then rewind, starting at the beginning. We got the feeling that a comment was being made about the fact that most popular legends exist in multiple, often conflicting versions.
The narration is peppered with historical information (including documented dates of actual events and explanations of certain customs of the times).
Audience participation is encouraged at key points. And we urge you to respond and to participate. Remember: this is Robin Hood and his Merry Men — be merry!
In case it we have not yet been clear, we highly recommend this show.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 20th Raleigh, NC Talkin’ Broadway: Raleigh/Durham review by Garrett Southerland: https://www.talkinbroadway.com/page/regional/rd/rd58.html; Sept. 11th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Maeve Sheehey: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2018/09/playmakers-sherwood-delayed-0911, Sept. 5th preview by Jessica Hardison: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2018/09/mckay-coble-quanda-0905, and Sept. 3rd preview by A.J. O’Leary: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2018/09/playmakers-robinhood-0903; Sept. 6th Chapel Hill, NC Get-Offline.com Chapel Hill interview with scenic designer McKay Coble, conducted by Jessica Hardison: https://www.get-offline.com/chapel-hill/news/playmakers-scenic-designer-wants-you-to-enter-sherwood-forest; and Sept. 5th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/sherwood-the-adventures-of-robin-hood/Event?oid=17630041. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 18th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/09/playmakers-rep-will-stage-sherwood-ken-ludwigs-comic-take-on-robin-hood-on-sept-18-23-and-25-30/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents SHERWOOD: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, with original music by the Red Clay Ramblers’ Jack Herrick, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 and 22, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25-28, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29 and 30 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.
2018-19 SEASON (Shifting Ground: Theatre That Moves): http://playmakersrep.org/season/2018-2019/
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be a FREE post-show discussion, with members of the cast and creative team, following the show’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23rd, performance.
Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood (2017 Old Globe Theatre of San Diego, CA comedy): http://www.kenludwig.com/robin_hood/robin_hood.php (official web page) and https://www.samuelfrench.com/p/62891/ken-ludwigs-sherwood-the-adventures-of-robin-hood/ (Samuel French Inc.).
Ken Ludwig (York, PA-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.kenludwig.com/ (official website), https://playmakersrep.org/artists/ken-ludwig/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/ken-ludwig-7069 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0525024/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Ludwig (Wikipedia).
Jack Herrick (composer and music director): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/jack-herrick/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jack-herrick-70068 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0380606/ (Internet Movie Database).
Jessie Austrian (Brooklyn, NY director): https://www.jessieaustrian.com/ (official website), https://playmakersrep.org/artists/jessie-austrian/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/jessie-austrian-487479 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3865649/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/JessieAustrian (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/jessieaustrian (Twitter page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.