note: entire contents copyright 2013 by Sheila Barth
David Farr’s “The Heart of Robin Hood” isn’t just a 2-1/4-hour play. It’s an elfish, energetic, enchanting experience that captivates audiences, from the young to the young-at-heart, even before it begins.
Farr’s farce, under the superb direction of award-winning gymnast-actor-director Iceland theatrical standout, Gisli Orn Gardarsson, keeps theatergoers’ heads spinning, in a most delightful way.
Gandarsson and Icelandic Ventureport Theater Company dazzled Boston audiences last year with his thrilling, energetic, artistic production of “Metamorphosis” at the Cutler-Majestic Theater at Emerson College. For “The Heart of Robin Hood,” American Repertory Theater has imported those same Icelandic principals who produced the jaw-dropping, breath-stopping “Metamorphosis”.
As theatergoers enter, Poor Old Shine of Connecticut, a mischievous, frolicking group of five multi-instrumentalist, bluegrass minstrels, wander and sashay through the main aisle, stage and stairs, parade-like, playing upbeat music, while shadowing individuals to their seats. V The theater itself is an enchanting experience. Icelandic designer Borkur Jonsson didn’t create merely a set. It’s a big, medieval, fantasy-filled forest. A large canopy of leafy trees hovers over the audience and the stage. Acrobatic, gymnastic performers make their entrance by sliding down a 46-foot, looming cliff-like, structure, boasting peephole, pop-up windows and drawbridge-style platforms.
In this merry old wooded Sherwood Forest of yore, Robin and his quirky bandits also climb up and down this looming edifice, sleep on tree branches, suspend upside down, upright, and swing from rope-like vines, and/or a life-size, hanging basket.
That’s not all. The actors splutter and splash in a small pond that yields a Jaws-type shark - scary music and all - embedded in the stage floor.
They also toss booty or plunge headlong into a bottomless pit.
And did I mention that Robin Hood and his not-so-merry men are thieving, murderous blackguards who rob from the rich and keep for themselves?
Handsome, athletic Jordan Dean is dangerous and dashing, as Robin Hood. He thinks nothing of beheading his captives and stripping the rich of their treasures, clothing and dignity when they unwittingly venture into his verdant domain. Like any wise ship’s captain (he’s the captain of his forest, says he), he bans all women from his woods.
Robin meets his match in a swashbuckling swordfight and one-on-one battle of principles and strength with Martin, a brave, new robbing competitor, who’s fulfilling Robin Hood’s legend of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Robin gets his comeuppance - and true love - after realizing Martin is really the lovely Maid Marion, daughter of the Duke of York, in disguise. Dean and Christina Bennett Lind as Marion emit charismatic, romantic vibes in their love-hate relationship. V Fight director Joe Bostik has choreographed several exciting battles, aided by aerial consultant-associate director, Selma Bjornsdottir, who oversees the troupe’s effortless, ubiquitous shenanigans. Emma Ryott’s lavish and creatively fun costumes are eye-catching.
Performers Andy Grotelueschen as Much Miller; Jeremy Crawford as Little John; Zachary Eisenstat as Will Scathlock, along with Moe Alafrangy; David Michael Garry; Laura Sheehy; Louis Tucci; and Katrina Yaukey, each portraying multiple roles, jump out of everywhere, as they fly through the air, cling and tumble from above, and disappear through puddles and the floor.
Squeamish, mild-mannered patrons momentarily flinch at brutally grotesque moments, such as a tongue-ectomy, beheading, and taxpayer dissident Robert Summers’ (Louis Tucci) capture, torture, and execution in front of his young children, protective, big brother, Jethro (Andy Cekala) and Sarah Summers (Claire Candela), who is shocked into silence. Robin, Martin, and their men protect the lucky orphans, battling Prince John’s minions after he issues orders to murder the children.
Brief, violent moments like these, tempered by Bjorn Helgason’s skillful lighting, are rapidly dissolved with goodhearted humor and Poor Old Shine’s upbeat music.
The entire cast and crew are superlative, but Christopher Sieber as Pierre, Marion’s faygelah man-in-waiting, is a relentlessly delightful, hilarious spotlight-stealer. On the other hand, Damian Young as King Richard’s usurping, evil brother, Prince John, evokes boos and hisses with his evil demeanor.
Muster up your courage, venture into winter’s icy blast, and take a walk on the wild side, to Harvard Square’s American Repertory Theater. Mingle with medieval and modern men and maidens of music, merriment and mayhem. You’ll thank me for it later.
BOX INFO:Two-act family holiday adventure,written by David Farr, appearing at American Repertory Theater through Jan. 19, at Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge. Recommended for ages 10+ years old. Tickets start at $25; senior, military, Harvard, group, standing room, student rush discounts. Check for talkbacks and related events. Showtimes: Jan. 7,9,10,14,16,17, at 7:30 p.m.; Jan 8,11,18, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 12, 19, at 2 p.m.; Jan. 15, at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Visit americanrepertorytheater.org or call 617-547-8300.