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The Heart of Robin Hood

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Billed for adults of all ages and brave children, this isn't The Adventures of Robin Hood of Errol Flynn days but a much darker story that combines high energy, music, and acrobatics delivered by a  personable cast with the kind of action expected in today's entertainment. With a little moral ambiguity and a few cringe-worthy moments thrown in, its humor and underlying message still aim to reward the noble and defeat the corrupt. The trick is figuring out who's who and how to arrive at that happy conclusion.

Written by British playwright David Farr, based on the original tale familiar to most, it adds Shakespearean touches, circus antics, slapstick, romance, and broad characterizations.

The star of the show is the elaborate set by Bokur Johnson, with a stage-wide, skyscraping, green carpeted slide which allows for swooping entrances and clambering exits. Platforms appear and disappear allowing characters to make grand entrances. There are doom-inducing holes to fall through, a pond available for a good soaking, and a weather-beaten tree perfect for ropes to hang from. The overall effect is adventure itself.

Robin Hood (Luke Forbes) is buff and a shade sinister as he leads his exuberant and bloodthirsty men to rob from the rich. Only this time, they keep the spoils for themselves. That is, until Maid Marion (Christina Bennett Lind) shows up and discovers that they are not the untarnished heroes she believed them to be.

Her dilemma is that she is being forced to marry Prince John (Eirik Del Barca Soleglad), a smarmy and sinister thug, as prescribed by the original tale. His lack of success with women notwithstanding, he is free to force this union as Marion’s crusading father is unavailable to protect her.

Farr’s addition of the outsized Pierre (Daniel Franzese), Marion’s manservant, provides some chuckles and comic moments as he exhibits diva-like tantrums and admits to designing their “iconic” Sherwood Forest costumes. His presence lightens scenes that could make a case for parental guidance to kick in. In a Taming of the Shrew sub-plot, Marion's libidinous sister Alice (Sarah Hunt) can’t marry until Marion is wed, so Alice’s machinations in that direction add another layer to the goings on in Nottinghamshire.

Two children (Gavin Lewis and Lily Rose Silver) grace the cast, providing a reason for Marion to sacrifice herself to Prince John and giving Robin’s men some good deeds to perform. John and his henchman, Guy of Gisborne (Patrick Woodall), further add evil to the plot and some mayhem at play’s end.

There’s a lot going on in this production. Along with the play itself, Icelandic pop singer Salka Sol Eyfeld and her accompanying musicians (Hugo Fowler, Jake Justice, Tennyson Morin, Jeff Verghies) add the requisite minstrel background with an eclectic mix of musical styles that enhance at times and detract at others. Nonetheless, they are well received by the audience.

Lind makes a feisty and feminist Marion as she disguises herself as Martin of Sherwood and leaves her castle to avoid Prince John. Her swordplay with Forbes and their romantic byplay add a welcome dynamic to the unfolding story. Franzese is a standout as the comic foil who kvetches and whines, reluctantly doing the right thing for Marion and the children. Hunt is delicious as the vamping Alice, and she adds audience interaction in a final comic touch.

Adding the requisite derring-do to the story and some fine gymnastics are the stock characters from the original: Sam Meader as Will Scarlett; Kasey Mahaffy as Much the Miller’s son; and Jeremy Crawford as Little John. Leonard Kelly-Young makes a sympathetic Makepeace as he endures the wrath of Prince John in a grisly moment. In multiple roles and adding color to the production are Ian Merrigan, Lize Johnston, Moe Alafrangy, Patrick DeLedebur, and Paige Herschell as soldiers, friars, guards, nuns, and the like.

Directors Gisli Orn Gardarsson and Selma Bjornsdottir set a brisk pace for the action. Combining spectacle, storytelling, musical interventions, and a dash of melodrama takes a steady hand, and their emphasis is on audience entertainment and elements of surprise.

Ken Billington and Ed McCarthy’s lighting design enhances the play, particularly in scenes where characters appear on the platforms. Notably, Emma Ryott’s costumes mix Sherwood Forest with Hollywood Boulevard, and they are inventive and attractive.

As escapist entertainment, this production transports an audience sated by blockbuster movies and endless hours of television to a place where fantasy can be believable and live action is immediate and close up. Not a perfect vehicle, it still has charm and a spirited cast eager to please, making it a diverting outing.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.