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April Mae Davis. Photo by HuthPhoto.

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Ken Ludwig’s Light, Lively Take on Robin Hood Has a Moving Political Message for Today

By Byron Woods for INDY Week

Guest director Jessie Austrian enlisted the audience's help several times during PlayMakers Rep's production of Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ken Ludwig's light, lively retelling of the fourteenth-century legend. While raucous miscreants played primitive beer pong in a tavern, extras fanned out through Paul Green Theatre, recruiting dancing revelers for the ribald tunes that modern-day balladmonger Jack Herrick wrote for the show. Later, Sir Guy (Jeffrey Blair Cornell) had to repeat the line "All rise," adding hand gestures, to get the audience on its feet for the entrance of the villainous Prince John (played like a smarmy talk-show host by Ray Dooley) before goading the crowd into doing the wave.

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Joshua David Robinson as Robin Hood, Photo by HuthPhoto

But during the show's final bit of audience participation, at the top of Act Two, the put-ons, silliness, and slapstick evaporated, and the room went still. We were at the Great Oak, where Robin Hood had convened a coalition of the willing to join him in resisting a fraudulent and greedy sovereign. It was time for them to swear their loyalty. Then the actors turned outward, toward us, and suddenly, we were being asked to take their oath: "Do you swear to help those in need and to protect the poor with compassion and grace? To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the old and sick? To fight oppression and remain firm in our love of a free country for ourselves and our children?"

I saw looks of shock and uncertainty as well as expressions of resolution and delight throughout the theater, as Austrian's actors basically asked us all, point blank, "Which side are you on?"

Though the play continued, the stakes and mood had permanently changed. In part, that's because a strong ensemble—including narrator Friar Tuck (Dan Toot), Little John (a puckish Rishan Dhamija), and Maid Marian (a capable Christine Mirzayan)—truly conveyed the fellow feeling of a group of activists. Joshua David Robinson's nimble, heartfelt Robin Hood modeled the nobility a current generation hungers for from its leaders: "They follow me. I follow them. We travel together ... We're here for each other. Otherwise, we're nothing."

Andrea Bullock's prop artisans and effects creators made arrows appear from nowhere across the boards and bodies on McKay Coble's rustic, minimal set, and Herrick's original music supported the action throughout. At evening's end, an unexpectedly revealing production showed us where we stood, not only in the world of an old childhood story but in the present day as well.

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