THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD

If you think (or hope) you’ve seen the last of Robin Hood, think again. The Heart Of Robin Hood has arrived at the Wallis, and any lover of theatrical magic and thrills who skips this Robin because they’ve already seen Errol or Kevin or Russell bring Mr. Hood to the silver screen should suffer one of evil Prince John’s unspeakable punishments, or at the very least a good tongue-lashing. Trust me. You’ve never seen Robin Hood (or any on-stage adventure story) quite like this theatrical dazzler.

 To begin with, Robin (Luke Forbes) and fellow Merry Men Will Scarlett (Sam Meader), Much Miller (Kasey Mahaffy), and Little John (Jeremy Crawford) are proud to announce to anyone within hearing distance that “There’s nothing merry about us,” words surely echoed by their robbery victims not to mention by the poor, whom legend tells us benefitted from Robin’s thievery but as playwright David Farr would have it, see not a farthing of Robin and his Gang Of Thugs’ ill-gotten gains.

As for Maid Marion (Christina Bennett Lind), Farr has transformed her into a feisty feminist whose utter disdain for the sadistic, salacious, scheming Prince John (Eirik Del Barco Soleglad) has her transforming herself into Martin Of Sherwood, heading off into the woods to do As You Like It’s Rosalind-turned-Ganymede proud, and teaching Robin and his misogynistic comrades (“Women make us rash and unreliable”) a thing about doing what’s right.

 In true Shakespearian fashion, Robin has absolutely no idea that his freshly arrived rival is none other than the woman he’s previously encountered in a classic romcom meet-cute that has the clearly made-for-each other pair expressing hate at first sight even as their body language reveals a whole lot of under-the-surface sexual attraction going on.

 Joining in on the fun and adventure are Marion’s plus-size, not-so-macho valet Pierre (Daniel Franzese), aka Big Peter, and a couple of orphaned ragamuffins (Gavin Lewis and Lily Rose Silver as Jethro and Sarah Summers), leaving behind Marion’s featherbrained younger sister Alice (Sarah Hunt), forbidden to wed till older sis ties the knot.

Even without the production that brings it to life on the Bram Goldsmith stage, Farr’s reimagined Robin Hood would be a winner for its originality and daring.

Still, it’s the Icelandic theater and film company Vesturport’s Gisli Örn Gardarsson and Selma Björnsdóttir, making their Wallis directorial debut, scenic designer Börkur Jónsson, and two thrilling hours of acrobatic-aerial derring-do that could easily make The Heart Of Robin Hood this holiday season’s hottest-ticket-in-town.

 Dominated by a gigantic tree whose branches extend halfway across the proscenium, Jónsson’s set backs the action with a steep verdant slope down which characters slide with thrill-ride glee, then clamber back up as if there were no gravity to hold them down as drawbridges pop out, hidden windows open up, and even the forest floor holds its share of wonders, most especially a hole down which characters plummet and a pond that hides its own surprises.

 Meanwhile, virtually everyone in the cast climbs ropes, hangs from them (occasionally upside down), swings from them to do circus trapeze artists proud, and in the production’s most stunningly beautiful sequence, a couple of them perform an über-romantic aerial pas de deux as gorgeous as it is vertiginous.

Even at ground level, acrobatics defy gravity, particularly when Moe Alafrangy’s Henchman is executing them, and fight director Joe Bostic has adversaries battling with swords and clubs and wooden posts in addition to punches and kicks and knee jabs from a cast whose physical prowess is matched only by their acting chops.

 Forbes’ Shakespeare-trained Robin is as adept with words as he skilled is with bow, arrow, and sword, Lind’s magnificent Marion/Martin gives the menfolk as good as she/he gets, and Meader and Mahaffy offer muscular, athletic, high-energy support from start to finish.

Crawford’s pint-sized but turbocharged Little John, Franzese’s fabulously flamboyant Pierre, and Hunt’s hilariously frustrated Alice are winners as well, child actors Lewis and Silver match their adult castmates every step of the way, and villains don’t get any more dastardly than Norwegian star Soleglad’s horrendously heinous Prince John.

Offering sensational support throughout, most of them in multiple roles, are Patrick de Ledebur (Robert Summers, Prison Guard, Soldier, Boar), Paige Herschell (Townswoman, Soldier, Nun), Lize Johnston (Lady Lebrun), French Lady, Soldier, Nun), Leonard Kelly-Young (Makepeace), Ian Merrigan (Lebrun, Friar, French Lord, Confessor, Soldier, Duke Of York), and Patrick Woodall (Guy Of Gisborne, Bishop).

 And I still haven’t mentioned vocalist-musical director Salka Sól and band members Hugo Fowler, Jake Justice, Tennyson Morin, and Jeff Verghies performing one after another of Sól’s seductive indie-pop songs, making The Heart Of Robin Hood seem very nearly a musical whenever they’re on stage.

Adding to the production design magic are Emma Ryott’s stunning costumes, Ken Billington and Ed McCarthy’s vibrant lighting, and Brian Hsieh’s crystal-ear sound design.

 Donna Levy is hair and makeup supervisor and Deb Hartwell is costume supervisor. Joel Goldes is dialect coach. Casting is by Telsey + Company, Tiffany Little Canfield, CSA, and Ryan Bernard Tymensky, CSA.

David Lober is production stage manager and Morgan Zupanski is assistant stage manager.

A Robin Hood like none before, Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts and Vesturport’s The Heart Of Robin Hood makes for as theatrically thrilling a treat as you’re likely to experience all holiday season.

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Bram Goldsmith Theater, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills. Through December 17. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30. Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:30. Reservations: 310 746-4000
www.thewallis.org

–Steven Stanley
December 2, 2017
Photos: Kevin Parry for The Wallis

 

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