Saturday, March 28, 2015

Review: 'Robin Hood'

An easy-going "Robin Hood" has its feet in different eras in Arden Theatre Company's smooth production. Inquirer theater critic Howard Shapiro reviews.

Review: 'Robin Hood'

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Charlotte Ford and Sean Lally in Arden Theatre Company's "Robin Hood." Photo by Mark Garvin.

By Howard Shapiro

Robin Hood stands at the edge of Sherwood Forest, strumming what looks like a lute gone angular, and lamenting “Marian, I love you, girl!” For a second, he’s a lounge lizard in the present while his 12th-century honey languishes in a tower run by the Sheriff of Nottingham, who has a modern flair for corruption and an old-fashioned snarl.

That mix of eras is a creamy-smooth blend in the Arden Theatre Company’s production of Robin Hood, which runs through June 24 and continues the company’s current rollout of high-level theater aimed at kids. This is a Robin Hood for times old and new — you could find something like Rosemary E. McKelvey’s costumes at a Renaissance Faire and also at the Gap.

The British theater artist Greg Banks wrote this adaptation about the folkloric archer who had his own notion of wealth redistribution. The Arden’s associate producer, Matthew Decker, who also is cofounder of Theatre Horizon, stages Robin Hood to take maximum advantage of Tom Gleeson’s set — a large playground with a ton of recycled tire chips painted green for the dirt flooring, and monkey bars, climbing frames and the like for the forest. Robin Hood is a highly physical production.

When fight choreographer Jenn Rose — her imbroglios with wooden swords and long poles are excellent — began working on the play, she shunted the cast to a playground and had them play. You can see why in this kinetic production, in which Prince John pops in carrying a coin-filled bathtub around his waist and the merry men turn up the dance music to boogie when a guest comes to their remote hideaway.

People chase one another on overhead catwalks or under metal framework, and Daniel Perelstein’s sound design has arrows whooshing — and they sometimes seem to land, for real.
The precise physical actor Charlotte Ford, highlight of many a Live Arts/Philadelphia Fringe Festival show, is at home here in several parts, including Maid Marian.

Robin Hood is a curly-headed, wide-smiling Sean Lally, who just as easily could play Peter Pan (except for his five-o’clock-shadow). His do-gooder badness is immensely appealing in Lally’s contagious delivery — this Robin Hood’s campaign is for a cause, but also for fun. (Hmmm, maybe the ’70s are blended here, as well.)

Veteran actor Ian Merrill Peakes creates a Sheriff who is thoroughly nasty and almost as clueless. The versatile Steve Pacek plays both sides, as the greedy Prince John, one of Robin’s merry men, and also Friar Tuck. The imposing Carl Clemons-Hopkins, who appears on many area stages, is Little John and several others.

So what if the adaptation seems a little disjointed as it runs through Robin’s episodes and takes forever to poorly address his fealty to King Richard and how that relates to Prince John. Kids don’t care. They do, though, when Robin and Marian become an item, and kiss. Many of the hundred-plus grade-schoolers I was with the other morning broke out into “eeeeyooooo!” (Translation: Ugh!”) Just the response this easygoing Robin Hood was hoping for, I bet.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727,, or #philastage on Twitter.

Robin Hood: Through June 24 at Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St. Tickets: $16-$32. Information: 215-922-1122 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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