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Theatre Review: Twist on "Robin Hood" Explores Gender Issues

The thesis of Know Theatre’s well-executed but nevertheless not-ready-for-prime-time summer entertainment Marian: Or the True Tale of Robin Hood is that the lady can do all the heroics but it still takes a man to be taken seriously and get the credit.

There’s no arguing that some things never change. Look no further than last week’s health care vote, in which two women senators, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, had stood firm for their voters through the whole GOP mess but – who got all the headlines? John McCain, for his last-minute vote. Good for McCain, but what are the women? Chopped liver? They were rewarded with threats and insults from the stalwart gentlemen surrounding them. No word on whether McCain got the same treatment…

So, back in Sherwood Forest, Maggie Lou Rader is a lively heroine, doing double duty as pretty but nondescript, aristocratic gal who hides her brains when she’s in the castle, then emerges as the beloved, bow-and-arrow toting male savior of the medieval community.

There’s some clever stuff, but playwright Adam Szymkowicz’s script is mostly ho-hum, filled with stock gags and stock characters, and lots of winks to contemporary gender issues. This time around, Robin’s band of merry men are mostly women disguised as men. It runs a quick 80 minutes (no intermission), which is all the material can sustain.

Candice Handy and Leah Strasser do nicely as women disguised as men who fall in love and have to explain they’re women. There’s also a bit about personhood, with one of the band rejecting both male and female assignment. Of course Marian, an early progressive, embraces it all.

The script feels like the playwright isn’t working very hard, especially when he has to fall back on Shakespeare (what woods are we in again?) when he runs short on ideas. (No, it isn’t a salute, it’s laziness.)

The production is vastly better than the play – director Alice Flanders keeps the pace fast and the energy high, the ensemble is solid and it’s easy to be charmed by the sweet emotional moments between Rader and Chris Wesselman as wingman Little John.

The stage area runs the length of the room, and fight choreographer John Baca knows how to fill it, keeping the action almost constant, not just with archery but broadswords and small swords and bops on the head.

One note – on Sunday afternoon the room was sweltering because Know turns of its loud air-conditioning during the performance. It made the performances even more impressive because most of the cast were dressed in suitably heavy medieval costume, and some of them had on multiple layers for quick changes.

Marian is one show where it wouldn’t be a problem to keep the air-conditioning on – Szymkowicz’s dialogue only occasionally contributes to the fun.

Marian: Or the True Tale of Robin Hood, through Aug. 19, Know Theatre, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Aug. 6 and 12. Tickets $25, rush tickets $15 10 minutes prior to curtain. FREE walk-up tickets Wednesdays, as available. 512-300-5669 and www.knowtheatre.com.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts