Review: Robin Hood was a she? ‘Criminal Minds’ actress Kirsten Vangsness leads the laughs of ‘Marian’
It takes a socially conscious Sherwood Forest to sprout the comic harvest of “Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood,” making its West Coast premiere at Theatre of Note in Hollywood.
This gender-scrambling romp by Adam Szymkowicz starts with the premise that the Robin Hood of legend is really Maid Marian, donning a male disguise to breach ye olde chauvinistic norms of 1190s England.
Kirsten Vangsness is perfectly cast in the title role. Though best known for the TV series “Criminal Minds,” Vangsness is a veteran Theatre of Note member and a skilled comic. (Her scarlet-clad femme fatale in the company’s “Kill Me Deadly” was an unforgettable noir parody.) Vangsness deftly pivots between Marian’s feminine wiles and Robin’s alpha dog leadership as her dual personas pilot the unsuspecting outlaw band of Merry Men in a spirited crusade against class and gender inequality.
The outlaws may indeed be a merry bunch, but the “Men” label proves increasingly dubious as secret identities tumble out of the Sherwood-work in a cleverly scripted tangle of revelations. Robin’s new protege, Alanna Dale (Sierra Marcks) joins the band as the Allan-a-Dale of lore, and is unknowingly smitten with a similarly disguised Will Scarlet (Alysha Brady). Another member, Much the Miller’s Child (Kelby Jo McClellan), rejects a single gender identity and insists on “they” or “them” pronouns.
As one of the surviving professional membership companies from the 99-Seat Equity waiver heyday, Theatre of Note sports a deep bench of skilled performers put to good ensemble use in Christopher Johnson’s staging. Among the comic standouts are Stephen Simon’s loyal but clueless Little John, who grapples with his feelings for the Robin he thinks is male. As the tyrannical nemesis Prince John, Joel Scher camps it up like a medieval forefather of “Hamilton’s” King George. Cat Chengery’s courtly courtesan seductively adapts her pillow talk formula for lovers and targets as she gathers intel for Robin’s team.
At times, however, Szymkowicz’s script still plays like an early draft. A cluttered opening archery contest involves a lot of unnecessary throat-clearing. We can safely stipulate that Robin is a good shot without having the cast gape at imaginary arrows. Jen Albert’s fight choreography is lively and energetic, but the fun wears thin when spread over too many battles. The imaginative staging and design that Johnson and the Note team brought to “Entropy” in 2015 would have helped the rough patches here. Still, the laughs are plentiful and the play’s sly pokes at gender politics have timely appeal.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
‘Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood’
Where: Theatre of Note, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood
Where: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; ends Sept. 22
Information: (323) 856-8611 or www.theatreofnote.com
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
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