Photo by Roger Mastroianni
“And now we present a show from Cleveland’s favorite playwright, ‘Ken Ludwig’s Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood,’” Laura Kepley, Cleveland Play House’s artistic director, announced on opening night.
Ludwig’s shows are often farcical reimagining’s of well-known tales and characters, and it was only a matter of time before the Tony-award-winning playwright took on the man who steals from the rich and gives to the poor in one of his comedic shows.
Cleveland’s audiences won’t be disappointed, for their favorite playwright’s “Sherwood” is a classic, whimsical Ludwig show. CPH’s production faithfully celebrates the morality of the common man while also offering a fun-filled night of rollicking justice.
Ludwig wrote “Sherwood” in 2017 and it is now under the direction of Adam Immerwahr, who ensures that the play’s buffoonery and mirth is well balanced with a gallant fairytale storyline.
Silly disguises, physical comedy and outrageous accents are given just as much attention and care as the story, which features plenty of romance and underdog do-goodery.
Before he was known as Robin Hood, he was the son of a noble, Robin of Sherwood, explains Friar Tuck, the play’s narrator. Once arrogant and irresponsible, we watch as Robin matures, discovering the value of breaking the rules in order to support the victims of an oppressive government.
When the generous King Richard left England to lead his troops in the Holy Land Crusades, his greedy brother Prince John took charge of the country. Robin and his common countrymen, including Maid Marian, the young maiden Deorwynn and the widower Little John, defy Prince John’s high taxes and cronies, Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Zack Powell is lovable, playful and heroic as the charming, swashbuckling Robin. The Robin of “Sherwood” is confident and a bit audacious, but he is also incredibly caring and sweet. Robin can be defying the law in a silly costume in one scene, but in the next, he could in all seriousness be delivering a rousing speech to rally the common people against Prince John.
Maid Marian is given new life by the wonderful Amy Blackman. Instead of playing the role of damsel in distress, Marian is strong and more than capable of taking care of herself. The heroine still has eyes for Robin, but she shoots her bow just as well—sometimes even better—than the good-hearted bandit.
Another spunky and impassioned character is Deorwynn, played by Andrea Goss. Beginning as a slightly meek commoner who rallies Robin to help her look for her father, she develops into a biting, quick-witted force.
Little John is played by the not-so-little Jonah D. Winston. Winston’s deep voice is booming and his tall physique intimidating, but his character’s big-heart shines through effortlessly.
Rounding out the gang of Robin’s Merry Men is Doug Hara as our narrator Friar Tuck. The charismatic Hara interacts with the audience in a casual, friendly manner as he recounts the tale of Robin’s adventures. To our surprise and pleasure, Tuck is hungry for battle and hurls insults unexpected of a friar.
While the heroes are as knightly as they come, the villains are more far more entertaining than they are threatening. The seemingly dastardly Prince John, played by Price Waldman, is actually quite amiable. His dialogue contains many winks and nods to Shakespeare, followed by the Prince remarking how clever he is, which is then followed by many laughs.
Often stealing the spotlight on stage is Steven Rattazzi as the Sheriff of Nottingham. This sheriff is short, wears a ridiculous wig, interjects at all the wrong times and is an absolute pleasure to watch.
The more intimidating of the villains is Josh Innerst’s Sir Guy of Gisbourne, who doesn’t have as many laughs but has some awesome sword fighting scenes directed by J. Allen Suddeth.
The characters fight with bows and arrows, quarterstaffs and swords as they traipse across Mischa Kachman’s set design. Centered around a massive oak tree, his two-tiered wooden and stone set functions as both a forest and a castle. A turntable offers a simple, yet charming way, to rotate props—and people—on and off stage.
Equally impressive are the costume and wigs. Whether it be the gold-embroidered cape of the king or Robin’s signature green attire, everyone is dressed lavishly by designer Jess Goldstein.
Helping sell the story is a wonderfully cohesive sound and lighting design by Nick Kourtides and Nancy Schertler, respectively. The best example of this cohesion is during the battle between the Merry Men and Sir Guy, where rocks break away from the castle, fires light the walls ablaze and arrows fly to and fro.
You could argue that Laura Kepley was wrong in stating that Ludwig is Cleveland’s favorite playwright, but the amount of laughter and cheer emanating from the audience at “Sherwood” certainly helps prove her point.
Through Feb. 24 at the Allen Theatre. For more information and tickets, visit clevelandplayhouse.com