In the dark of night, a group of robbers dons woodland masks and acts like spirits to scare knights who transport a large chest. The altruistic thieves plan to give — or redistribute — any riches they aquire among English peasants. The chest holds more gold than they imagined and too much to go missing unnoticed, so the robbers face a monumental dilemma in the world premiere of Robin Hood: Thief, Brigand, produced by the New Orleans Museum of Art and The NOLA Project, presented in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Attendees can bring blankets and collapsible chairs.
Written by local playwright Andrew Vaught, this show is a fun, quick-paced adaptation of the classic tale. Robin Hood (James Bartelle) leads more with his heart than his head. When he and his Merry Men, including Friar Tuck (Cavan Hallman) and Alan A Dale (Becca Chapman), get caught, it's his love interest Marian (Kaitlyn McQuin) who must figure out a plan to save them. Bartelle's intensity helps ground the show. While most of the characters have a humorous bent, he and McQuin are more serious, which makes the life-or-death stakes feel real. In one scene, Marian begs Robin to stop acting brashly. Her performance resonates as she tries to save not only her friends, but also her country.
As the drunken friar, Hallman is hilarious; he gratuitously stumbles and slurs, but also gives his character heart. His scenes with Chapman, who shows off her physical comedy chops, are playful and draw many laughs. Another standout pair is Robin Hood's sidekick Little John (Jared Gore) and his wife Scarlet (Natalie Boyd). Gore's gruffness balances the humor, and Boyd's tough, physical persona is a counterpoint to Eleanor of Aquitaine (Trina Beck) and Marian's scheming-women roles.
Director Beau Bratcher makes excellent use of the clearing at the park's entrance. Characters walk through the crowd and, at one point, suddenly impoverished nobility panhandle the audience, begging for "alms for the poor." Transitions between storylines are seamless, and the energy remains high as characters enter and exit from all directions.
While there are many versions of the Robin Hood story, Vaught's mix of humor and social commentary makes the show fresh. He manages this by making the bad guys silly and the good guys sincere (and sometimes silly). Every scene with the three fallen Lords (Price Provenzano, Keith Claverie and Nicholas Stephens) gets big laughs, because the three share excellent comic timing and don't overwork the jokes. As King John, Alex Martinez Wallace shines; he's a great mixture of evil laugh and pure evil.
The large and talented large cast draws from several young theater companies and everyone delivers solid performances. Robin Hood: Thief, Brigand is a fun and well-produced show the whole family can enjoy. — TYLER GILLESPIE