By Howard Shapiro
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 www.robinhoodinphilly.com.
By Howard Shapiro