Robin Hood’s Tax Plan: Rob the Rich and Give to the Poor
by Cynthia Citron
If swashbuckler Errol Flynn were alive today, I think he’d stand up and applaud “The Heart of Robin Hood”, a delightfully quirky new version of the Robin Hood legend that has been entertaining audiences since the 14th century.
The current production, by the Icelandic company Vesturport, is a comedy that has traces of Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona”, in which a woman disguises herself as a man in order to avoid marriage to a man she doesn’t want.
In addition, the play provides the exuberance and high-flying dynamics reminiscent of a company from Cirque de Soleil.
As the play opens, we are bowled over by the exquisitely beautiful and deceptively simple setting designed by Borkur Jonsson. It is Sherwood Forest, depicted as a background in shades of green constructed in some material that allows the players to arrive by sliding down it from the rafters to the stage.
The setting is enhanced by bowers of leaves and occasional trees, including one with a high branch that the players leap onto to rest, to hide, or to pounce from above on their sword-wielding attackers.
In addition, as we soon discover, the background wall, which is 40 feet tall, has flaps that open and shut in which various characters appear from time to time, as well as a large rectangular opening with a small platform that allows others to stand and declaim their intentions from on high.
But before we are introduced to any of them, we are serenaded by an Icelandic singer/songwriter and her four-man band who have been nesting quietly behind a tree upstage right.
This ensemble performs between scenes where other plays might offer a blackout as players scramble into new costumes backstage. The star, Salka Sol, has a glorious voice which she accompanies with her guitar, and later she plays the guitar and a trumpet simultaneously.
So now that you’re comfortably settled in your seat, let’s get on with the play.
First up is Robin Hood, robustly played by the handsome, well-muscled Luke Forbes, surrounded by a few of his Merry Men, and joined by a fierce new member, Little John (Jeremy Crawford).
At this juncture Robin only steals from the rich; the “giving to the poor” hasn’t occurred to him yet. That lovely idea is provided by Marion (Christina Bennett Lind), daughter of the Duke of York (Ian Merrigan), who had escaped into the forest to be free from an environment she calls “a gilded prison” and to avoid marrying a man that her father favored.
Mistakenly assuming that Robin and his men would protect her, she is chased off after a ferocious sword-fight, which impressed him but didn’t change his decree: “no women allowed in the forest.”
Chagrined, she returns home and changes her clothes (but not her face, her hair, or her makeup) and returns to the forest as a man named Martin. She is accompanied by her guardian, Pierre (Daniele Franzese), who expertly provides much of the comedy, verbally and physically.
The plot thickens, however, when the evil Prince John (Eirik Del Barco Soleglad) appears in the forest searching for Marion. His plan, in addition to marrying her, is to kill his brother, King Richard, who is off to the Crusades, and seize the crown for himself.
“The Heart of Robin Hood”, with its 17 players, many playing multiple parts (Ian Merrigan alone plays six), makes it impossible to introduce them all and their many subplots within the story.
They are an amazing company, all of them, but never more so than when they are performing their physical feats of magic. They enter and leave the stage sliding up and down the back wall, rising and descending on a thick rope, sometimes twirling or hanging upside down, tumbling, fighting, rolling, jumping into a bottomless pit, falling into a real pond and climbing out dripping wet, and other insane activities.
Plus everybody sings.
British writer David Farr is the author of this unique and tumultuous production and the directors are Gisli Orn Gardarsson and Selma Bjornsdottir.
(There are a couple of umlauts and an accent mark missing from those names, but my computer isn’t sophisticated enough to add them.) But do remember their names, because I’m sure we will be hearing from them again soon.
You have until December 17 to catch this wonderful show at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills.
It will run Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm and 7:30pm. For tickets, call (310) 746 4000 or online at TheWallis.org/RobinHood.
Marion (Christina Bennett Lind) and her guardian, Pierre (Daniel Franzese), confront Robin Hood in “The Heart of Robin Hood”
Photo by Kevin Parry