By Stana Milanovich
The company of Theatre of NOTE's West Coast premiere production of MARIAN, OR THE TRUE TALE OF ROBIN HOOD
PHOTO CREDIT: Darrett Sanders
Theater of Note presents the delightful Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood, as the penultimate offering of their 2018 season.
It's still refreshing to see a traditional tale genderbent and rainbow'd, and this Robin Hood, as written by Adam Szymkowicz and directed by Christopher Johnson, attempts to use all the LGBTQA colors while addressing sexist tropes at swordpoint.
The story hits most of the main points of the Robin Hood myth: in a time of tyranny (cough, cough) an outlaw hides in Sherwood Forest, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. There's the infamous archery contest, a prison break (or two), and plentiful romance. Here, of course, is the crux, as this version asks us what would be different if Robin Hood were Marion in disguise, and if folks in Sherwood were a bit more forward thinking about love. Love in this forest flows freely in multiple directions with twist and turns. Lesbians will out themselves as gay men and there is even an appropriate discussion of pronouns amid the rejection of assigned gender.
Kirsten Vangsness stars as Marian & Robin Hood
PHOTO CREDIT: Fiona Lakeland
Kirsten Vangsness' Maid Marian is played with puckish vigour. She dashes about the stage with bravado, although at times one could wish for just a little more heart. Part of this lies with the play, which, despite the title, dramatically centers the journey of Alanna, soon to be Alan A'Dale. Sierra Marcks does a strong job of negotiating Alanna's repeated 4th wall breaks and longings, and her eventual romance with "Will" Scarlett played with conviction by Alysha Brady is very endearing.
Prince John is perhaps the broadest role of the lot, and Joel Scher admirably balances between pathetic object of ridicule and terrifying tyrant. Dan Wingard as the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham is appropriately reptilian. He remains the corner of a love triangle with Cat Chengery's highly sexual Lady Shirley at the apex and the very libidinous Friar Tuck, a ribald Alex Elliot-Funk, at the other end. Chengery's playfulness is all the more delightful as the character is never slut-shamed. Stephen Simon is very well cast as Little John. Pushing the undercurrents of affection between John and Marion would strengthen the end, although the fact that the last brief fight scene is between John and the Sheriff in aid of Marion's escape gives unfortunate rescuing echoes when really it should be about love. The rest of the ensemble stays on point and are excellent...and quite funny.
Johnson, cast, and crew make good use of a small space whose brick walls bleed into the stone battlements of Nottingham. Skillfull lighting and set design means floors become ramparts and Sherwood forest is etched by green lighting. Throw a few pendants around and we're there.
This leaves costume and props to do heavy lifting and they do not disappoint. Costuming is particularly pleasing. Prince John and Lady Shirley show off the most lux designs but everyone's garb fits the part, and Marion's clever clothing allows her to cross genders quickly. The armor feels realistic, often to comic effect. Impressively, a side character whose offstage death is barely touched upon gets a ghostly costume switch.
One of the strongest choices of this production occurs with sound design. Almost all sound is diagetic, or
Sierra Marcks (center) with the company of MARIAN, OR THE TRUE TALE OF ROBIN HOOD
PHOTO CREDIT: Darrett Sanders
within the reality of the scene. So the music, from madrigal to manic David Bowie, is sung by the cast. Sometimes that works better than others. The classical pieces have excellent harmony but the more modern ones can get lost in the heat of battle. Yes, the trumpets are really being blown and those swords are heavy enough to clang. Listen for the nod to Costner's Robin Hood as the end song.
Fights are well staged, if unevenly enacted. You will love how they handle getting hit by arrows, a very old trick that remains extremely effective. The storming of the castle feels as if the cast had grown two-fold. Much of the action is in your face with heavy swords, so sit a few rows back if you're feeling nervous.
Marian isn't groundbreaking, but it is a good time. Make sure to arrive early to enjoy delightful pre-show in-character interactions with the excellent supporting cast, but consider leaving the kids at home. Marian might appeal to the skin-kneed tomboy in all of us, but there's a bit too much bawdy thrusting and simulated sex acts for all but the older teens.
Marian or the True Tale of Robin Hood
is directed by Christopher Johnson and written by Adam Szymkowicz. It features Kirsten Vangsness, Dan Wingard, Sierra Marcks, Joel Scher, Stephen Simon, Cat Chengery, Alysha Brady, Liesel Hanson, Kelby McClellan, Brad C. Light, Kristian Bikic, Alexis DeLaRosa, Michelle McGregor and Sarah Lilly.
Marian or the True Tale of Robin Hood plays on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays thru Sep 22 at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N Cahuenga Blvd in Hollywood. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased