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Review: ‘The Merry Death of Robin Hood’ at LiveArtDC

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The Merry Death of Robin Hood, written by Paul Resiman, (based on the stories by Howard Pyle), is my first experience of LiveArtDC and it was choice. I hadn’t thought of Robin Hood since the mid-70s film Robin and Marian starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn as the famed pair in their golden years. Thanks to Director Jason Schlafstein’s fascination with Robin of Locksley and the talented actors who became his merry cast, we have a wise, warm-hearted, fun-filled and all-around wonderful reinvention of the legend with the addition of a Punk aesthetic to give the tale a modern edge.

Robin (Matthew Aldwin McGee) and Marian (Kaitlin ). Photo by James Ryan Photography.

Robin (Matthew Aldwin McGee) and Marian (Kaitlin Kemp). Photo by James Ryan Photography.

The play is staged in DC Reynolds Bar, a large rectangular space with bar stools backed against the bar and also along the opposite wall. And, yes, food and libations are served before, during and after the show with many an occasion to lift a glass.

Rope lights and bulbs crisscross the ceiling beams to provide the forest canopy. The bar, the bar stools and the stairs at either end — and literally every square foot of floor space in between — serve as the stage. Designer Kat Fleshman (designer) waived a magic wand over fishnet, denim, green tartan fabric and safety pins to create costumes that are just right.

And so the story revolves around a wake. The dearly departed himself, Robin (Matthew Aldwin McGee), serves as the emcee. What begins in narration proceeds to action. Robin snaps his fingers to freeze scenes, affording opportunities for commentary, or to transport the action to an earlier time. It’s a winning technique because it quickly builds character development and illuminates relationships between characters as Robin doesn’t merely tell, he recreates first encounters with each member of his merry band.

It seems every new recruit meets Robin in confrontation, starting with Will (Wilhelmina) Scarlet (Emma Lou Hebert), the village blacksmith’s daughter who’s of a mind to take everyone down a peg or two. The funniest first encounter is with Little John (Christian Sullivan) who demands a toll to cross a bridge. An argument, a fight and the eventual bro bonding ensue. Near a river bank the merry band is introduced to Friar Tuck (Steve N Bradford) with a food fight and end up recruiting their resident gourmand and spiritual guide. Next up is Alan A-Dale (Seth Rosenke) who serves the troupe as balladeer. The incorporation of music from Queen, The Buzzcocks, The Struts and others fits perfectly.

Maid Marian (Kaitlin Kemp) requires a few encounters before she joins with Robin and is perhaps his closest ally in being motivated by justice. It’s great that Hebert and Kemp have strong rolls without a hint of the “damsel in distress” cliche. Jon Jon Johnson fills a couple instrumental roles in alliance with Robin or the sheriff.

A Sing-A-Long. Photo by James Ryan Photography.

A Sing-A-Long. Photo by James Ryan Photography.

John Stange portrays the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham with arch menace, at times reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The Sheriff’s henchman Guy of Gisbourne (Josh Adams) is all menace in steely earnest. A fight scene between Gisbourne and Robin (choreographed by Jonathan Ezra Rubin) is downright fierce and harrowing.

The audience truly is immersed in the production whether just watching, serving as extras, participating in recruit training exercises, or just scrambling out of their chairs when the space is needed for a scene.

LiveArtDC’s hallmark is its improvisational approach to play development and The Merry Death of Robin Hood benefits greatly from an interdependent cast whose group photo could be used to illustrate the word “ensemble” in any dictionary. The character interrelationships, story lines and dialog have been well-crafted through the development process, yet the audience involvement adds an element of spontaneity that greatly contributes to the merriment.

The Merry Death of Robin Hood is action-packed with equal measures of humor and sentiment making for a thoroughly enjoyable show.

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The Merry Death of Robin Hood plays through June 12, 2016 (Thursdays and Saturdays at 9 pm, Sundays at 4 pm), at LiveArtDC performing at DC Reynolds Bar – 3628 Georgia Avenue NW, Washington, DC (near the Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro Station). For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.

THIS SHOW IS FOR 21 and UP ONLY!

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif

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