World Premiere: The Legend of Robin Hood

Action, drama, intrigue and more. Nathan Makaryk's "The Legend of Robin Hood" is intelligent theater in Fullerton.

An elaborate forest sets the stage for the retelling of this popular and world-famous legend. The many set changes keep the scenes fresh as we bounce back and forth between Sherwood forest and the seat of government power in Nottingham. Maverick Theater’s production of Nathan Makaryk’s “The Legend of Robin Hood” revolves around the tightly coiled storyline, and that requires an often-changing set.

There are swordfights that seem too big for the stage. The play features a dramatic soundtrack that is blended in with the action by sound designer David Chorley (who also lends gravitas to an already deep play with his portrayal of the silently scheming William de Ferrers). It hints at the dramatic content which needs to be focused on, which is useful in this play of so many moving parts.

Staying alive is not boring.Robin of Locksley

The imaginative set changes, the kinetic swordfights, and the compelling soundtrack all add to the story being told, but the real nugget of this play is the story. In this ambitious work, Nathan Makaryk has crafted a tale that seems more like a Greek tragedy than medieval folklore, and he has done it with the subject matter of modern politics.

All of the main characters, even the villains, are deeply developed. Each is driven by beliefs and desires that are revealed and justified within the play. Each character works off each other like puzzle pieces revealing a force just beyond the realm of the play, and that force is… the crushing weight of the tax burden levied to fund King Richard’s ill-conceived foreign adventurism of his Crusade.

Robin of Locksley (played by Frank Tryon) is not portrayed as an unerring moral beacon who ‘just knows’ what is morally just. He is a soldier returning home from the very crusades that require the crushing taxes. He, and his friend William de Wendenal (Michael Keeney), have been charged with delivering a cache of weapons to the king. In the opening scene they are confronted in Sherwood Forest by the robbers who have confiscated the weapons, the very weapons that were paid for by the confiscatory taxes. The irony is so rich and delicious that you will think it was taken off of CNN or Fox News.

Robin considers his duty to the king, even as Will Scarlet (Jaycob Hunter) and John Little (Larry Creagan) describe the starvation that the king's tax burden caused in the countryside, even as they explain how Robin’s father was burned to death in his own barn while resisting paying taxes to the sheriff. He has never understood his father’s resistance to the king’s will, and his protection of the people. But that begins to change as he visits his father’s fire-gutted home. It changes more as he learns that his longtime lady friend, Lady Marian, has aided the rebels as his father had.

The Sheriff, Baron Roger de Lacy (Glenn Freeze), who is so often portrayed as a two-dimensional archetype of the failures of human nature, is in this case presented as one of the characters with the straightest moral stature. When challenged by Guy of Gisbourne to put the rebel's heads on pikes, he replies “My duty is to enforce justice! Would this be justice, to kill the outlaws?”

The practical effects of the taxes and other robbery are explored as the sheriff explains, “The rebels give the money to the farmer, who no longer feels the need to sell his harvest but prefers to eat it himself.” Exchanges are agreed to. You can see the economic incentives producing their effects as the play goes on. At one point one of the villagers arrives at the rebel’s camp and says, “I’ll take my coin now.”

The sheriff struggles to understand how he might enforce justice, but he must operate under the unjust rules which were handed down from afar. He is also under the constant threat of being replaced for a failure to produce tax revenue. As neighboring sheriffs are replaced for that very reason he goes into a CYA mode of operation. He seeks some sort of compromise with the rebels, but his plans are thwarted by subordinates who don’t follow the intent of his orders.

One of those subordinates is Guy of Gisbourne (Scott Keister). Even he seems to have more depth of character, but it is still impossible to tell when he is lying. He might be the character by which much of the deceit takes place, but in the end he is following orders.

The conflict in this play often degrades into armed conflict. These skirmishes start off slow but at one point a swordfight breaks out as if by accident. You might have to remind yourself that the actors didn’t actually get pissed off and start battling, and that it’s part of the play. One of the swordfights seems to involve too many people and be too big for any sane person to try to squeeze onto that stage. Don’t worry: It’s all part of the show.

The ensemble cast brings the story to life. The characters are well- differentiated and accessible. The characters’ intentions operate clearly and convincingly within the moving pieces of the puzzle of this play. Many parts come together to make a complete and complex picture. It might even make more sense out of the traditional story of Robin Hood than any of the earlier versions.

There were a couple of rough spots in the performance that I saw, but interestingly, they all happened in the very beginning. The performers all seemed to become more adept and in focus as the play went on. I would be happy to see if that continued to happen during the run of the play. There is certainly more richness that can be wrung out of this wealthy and entertaining script.

"The Legend of Robin Hood" runs through Saturday, April 14. Curtain times are 8:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 4:00 p.m. on Sundays. Running time is 2-1/2 hours, including a 10-minute intermission.

Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave. 714.526.7070

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