A comedic adventure


Billed as a family friendly adventure, “Robin Hood” features, bottom left and clockwise, Logan Wolfe, Cameron Francis, Hannah Benitez, Ric Rose, Kenny Smoak, Matthew Lindsay and Nichole Hamilton, starting Friday at the Hippodrome Theatre.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 10:27 a.m.

Robin Hood is indestructible.

Facts

‘Robin Hood’

What: Greg Banks’ take on a “tale of adventure for all ages,” directed by Lauren Caldwell
When: Opens Friday with a preview performance at 8 tonight, showtimes are 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through May 5.
Where: Hippodrome Theatre, 25 SE Second Place
Tickets: $30-$35, $25 for senior citizens, $15 for students; tickets for tonight’s preview are $15 and $18
Info: 375-4477, www.thehipp.org
Note: Kids get in free between Saturday and April 24 with minimum of three non-perishable food items; up to two free children per paying adult.

Six hundred odd years have passed since the first recorded instance of the famous bow-and-arrow-wielding hero, and somehow the themes and characters of the story seem as if they could have been created yesterday. A man living in corrupt times, when the rich become richer on the backs of the poor, and the government seems in cahoots with the criminals — does this seem like the tale of the pre-Renaissance English countryside or of America in the last decade?

Perhaps there is something inherent in humanity that makes these themes occur in real life, as well as fairy tales, over and over again. And, perhaps that thread is what gives the Hippodrome Theatre’s new production of “Robin Hood” such resonance, even though the play is more comedy than drama — or, in Robin Hood terms, more Mel Brooks than Kevin Costner.

“It’s very poignant right now,” says director Lauren Caldwell. “The same problem has been happening for centuries. The characters in this play are like people in foreclosure; they are people who have lost their jobs. We have kids coming to these shows. I want them to have a great time but also go out and ask their parents and teachers questions.”

In fact, it is surprising how much the underlying theme of altruism in the face of greed and corruption comes through, given how funny the production is. Jokes roll off at a rapid pace amidst slapstick low comedy, audience interaction, live music and a bevy of modern references, including a rendition of the ubiquitous YouTube sensation, the Harlem Shake.

“Sometimes a message hits home through comedy more than drama,” Caldwell says. “It sneaks up on you, and sometimes that helps you hear it better.”

Much of the comedy in the play is provided by Cameron Francis, who plays the usurping despot, Prince John. In Francis’ hands, Prince John is a mincing, shallow, absurd man.

“He’s like a whiny kid,” Francis says. “Petulant, impatient, just not someone you’re rooting for, but it’s entertaining at the same time.”

Francis has developed a great rhythm with Matthew Lindsay, who plays his inept sidekick, the Sheriff of Nottingham.

“Every actor wants to play the villain,” Lindsay says. “It’s a fun challenge to take on that role. When I saw the choices Cameron was making with Prince John, I knew he was so over the top that I had to come in underneath that.”

Ultimately, all the actors agree that the production is unique because, unlike most comedies where the humor is written into the script, Caldwell has injected most of the comedy into “Robin Hood,” along with the actors’ input.

“The script is very narrative,” says Nichole Hamilton, who plays Maid Marian. “We’re the ones bringing the humor. It’s really nice to have a place to come collaborate on that and do it.”

But, even as a comedy, Robin Hood is about a hero who represents the best parts of humanity, and Ric Rose, who plays Robin Hood, says that is what makes the story timeless.

“What I like about the story is that this character may have never existed in real life,” he says.

“But we want him to.”

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