SHERWOOD: THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOODBy Ken Ludwig
Plaza Theatre Company
Director: G. Aaron Siler
Stage Manager: Kaitlin West
Fight/Intimacy Director – Carlo J. Aceytiuno
Assistant Fight Director – David Saldivar
Lighting Designer: Cameron Barrus
Sound Designer: G. Aaron Siler
Costume Designer: Tina Barrus
Properties Designer: Soni Barrus
Robin Hood – Jesse Bowron
Friar Tuck – Freddy Martinez
Maid Marion – Jorilyn Tasker
Little John – A. Solomon Abah Jr
Deorwynn – Alina Jennings
Sir Guy of Gisbourne – Matt Victory
The Sheriff of Nottingham – Quentin Scott
Prince John – Robert Shores
Player – Abby Martinez
Player – Jacob Hanson
Reviewed Performance: 9/18/2021
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Ken Ludwig grew up on that story too, enough so that the prolific author wrote his own stage play about this character. Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood is that story, now playing in Cleburne’s Dudley Hall. Plaza Theatre Company brought this version to life and the overarching theme was swashbuckling, with a bit of Mel Brooks’ Men in Tights thrown in.
As a tale with no real historical evidence, these stories can be as outlandish or “real” as a writer or director wants. PTC Director G. Aaron Siler took Ludwig’s comic text and played it for all its worth. This is comedy and it’s clear from the opening moments. All the production values fed into this, including sound, lights, props, and costumes. The basic set in this round stage floor with four play-in corners used the barest of set pieces, easily and quickly moved by actors. Absolute accuracy was not the goal; rather an impressionistic suggestion of something appeared on-stage for a moment and then silently disappeared. It’s a fast-moving story with many overlapping entrances and exits, so that the audience never really had a chance to focus on production choices – they just kind of happened at some point.
Friar Tuck, played by a robust Freddy Martinez as if he were a circus ringmaster, narrated the Adventure, gave some backstory, and provided context. You could say it was like a play-by-play announcer. Dressed in an orange monk’s cape, he bantered with and involved the audience to get involved from the opening lines. At times he joined Robin’s Merry Men but spent most of the performance straddling the Fourth Wall. At times he sang, and it wasn’t at all bad singing. It seemed in another show he could belt out a good song. He was also one of several comic-relief characters who kept the story light and fun, and sometimes downright funny.
Friar Tuck was joined in the Merry Men by John Little. Called Little John by all the historical versions of the story, A. Solomon Abah Jr. created another friendly, funny story arc that not only let him drift in and out of the story and pop into alternative momentary characterization, but also show a transformation with some emotional breadth. True to the character, he wasn’t little, but he was quick with witty responses and a fair amount of slapstick as a mainstay of the Merry Men.
Swashbucklers need an evil counterpoint. Sir Guy of Gisbourne, played by Matt Victory, was the evil incarnate character who had it in for Robin. Victory gave him a true evil passion to get Robin at all costs, even as he created hell-on-earth for the people of Sherwood. He represented out-of-control governments to Ludwig, which is why we need a Robin Hood. He was, however, foiled by his sidekick, The Sheriff of Nottingham, played like a Barney Fife character by Quentin Scott. Often at odds with Sir Guy, The Sheriff couldn’t really carry out vicious orders to kill or hurt people from Sir Guy. His attempts were some of the funniest moments as we could see he just didn’t have the evil-toolbox he needed.
Sir Guy couldn’t act alone. He had to be sponsored by someone more powerful. That was Prince John, played by Robert Shores. As a would-be monarch who wanted to line his pockets off the backs of the people of Sherwood, he was clearly an evil character. But his commands were not as much evil as, perhaps, a bad leader who fell into his role and had no idea how to do it. There were frequent pronouncements which took on a type of self-delusion quality delivered in Shakespearean language. I particularly loved the quotes taken out of context and butchered in his mouth, as if he is trying them on for size. There are reasons for everything on a stage and this will become clear in time.
Robin of Locksley is the swashbuckler. Jesse Bowron played this hero role with great gusto from the earliest moments. One thing Ludwig included in his story version was a potential backstory for Robin. All we know from the other versions is that he robbed from the rich, gave to the poor, and along the way fought the forces of evil. That’s all you normally need for a swashbuckling hero, but Ludwig wanted a story arc, a transformation from the child Robin to the hero. So Ludwig developed the story to show his teen years as a heller and party animal, but then experiencing heartaches about his behaviors. Bowron showed a of breadth of emotional struggles as Robin slowly became a hero. I particularly liked the way Bowron stayed true to his own character through the mayhem and chaos around him. While his Merri Men and the surrounding characters were creating comic moments, Bowron committed Robin to take Joe Campbell’s Hero’s Journey seriously.
Part of Ludwig’s effort to create backstory was to create a previously unknown character, Deorwynn. Played on this night by Alina Jennings, this is a character much like Eponine in Les Misérables. She wants Robin early, even while she sees him gravitate to Marian. She is stronger and more resolved than Robin and shows him some ropes in his early life. But she also shows him a strong female character model that eventually affects his personal growth and gives him a reason to fight Prince John and Sir Guy to the death if necessary. I enjoyed this new character and Jennings’ choices. She gave the story a strong female presence, someone who would go to her death protecting those she loved. Robin finds his depth of character through her.
Of course, Robin can’t be a hero without his heroine, Maid Marian. Jorilyn Tasker played this significant role at this performance and mirrored, to a strong degree, Deorwynn’s women’s power message. In this version, Marian is better about everything than Robin. She argues her points about stars and planets with equal power than he and eventually protects him through her archery prowess. But she is the niece of Prince John and has to find her own transformation to find reason to join Robin’s campaign. Tasker made Marian a strong woman with a heart of gold and a willingness to compromise with Robin, to a point. It is, of course, inevitable that Marian and Robin romantically connect, but Tasker’s characterization made it clear this would be an equal relationship – no shrinking violet here.
The story had some sword fighting with stage-combat swords and daggers. Fight/Intimacy Director, Carlo J. Aceytiuno, created fight scenes that were performed by fight amateurs, so they were slow and always safe, but also committed to by the fighting actors. This took focused training to get it right. Yes, they were clearly fake, but accurate fighting sequences wasn’t the point here. The story demanded a fight, and the actors gave us fights we could follow.
All production designers did their regular fantastic job at creating the atmospheres needed to make this story “believable,” at least within the comic tongue-in-cheek style. Cameron Barrus designed lighting plots that lit scenes on the floor and in the corners, provided for some special light effects, showed us a bit of projection, and generally supported the story with understated, though comic, choices. Director Siler doubled as Sound Designer with a lot of Celtic music and a bit of Eminem, Queen and Riverdance in Celtic style. I loved the pre-show music from King of the Fair and Celebration in the Campfire (courtesy of SoundHound). Properties Design by Soni Barrus and set decorations and creation looked to be a collaborative affair by the company. Many little set pieces and props showed up were objects created, constructed, and painted by someone, though they may have only existed for a few minutes, but they contributed to a 12th Century atmosphere and the comedic story.
Finally, Costumes were designed by Tina Barrus. Perhaps some collaboration happened here too, but all the main characters had one or more primary costume pieces with various add-on items. This provided a sense of period clothing, though the 1190s (AD) were somewhat open to interpretation. But every character was dressed in something most of us would imagine they’d wear. This was a comedy, with lots of quick appearance characters, such as foreign soldiers, with the barest of impressionistic garb. Costumes could be laughter-inducing themselves.
Ken Ludwig had a point in writing this play. First produced in 2017, Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood was an opportunity to comment on the state of politics in America and beyond while pushing the ideas of people taking care of each other and getting along. There’s no political slant, though ideas abound. There are refrains by Robin that “laws should be made with compassion” and our purpose is to “be here for each other.” That makes this play current.
There’s one more weekend to see Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood by Plaza Theatre Company. This is family entertainment at its best. You’ll laugh, probably not cry, but you will cheer for the good guys, boo the bad guys, and enjoy the light-hearted approach to this serious theme.
Plaza Theatre Company
305 S. Anglin Street
Cleburne, TX 76031
Plays through September 25
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 pm; Saturday Matinee at 3:00 pm.
Adults - $25
Seniors (65+) - $23
Students (13 - College) - $23
Children (under 12) - $15
Group rates available for ten or more
For information and tickets, visit http://www.plaza-theatre.com/ or call (817) 202-0600.