Chicago Theatre Review
Sherwood Forest Comes Alive
The Adventures of Robin Hood – Filament Theatre
There are probably as many different versions of the tale of Robin Hood and his Merry Men as there are trees in Sherwood Forest. But in 1883, American author and illustrator Howard Pyle decided, for his first novel, to collect some of these old stories and ballads and consolidate the best parts into one, child-friendly story. The result was the popular, bestselling The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. This juvenile novel is notable for turning an outlaw, who was probably motivated by personal gain, into one of the good guys and a popular folk hero. In Pyle’s novel, Robin Hood is a generous soul. He robs from the rich and gives back to the poor, in response to the oppression brought about by the book’s villain, the selfish Sheriff of Nottingham. Each chapter of the book almost stands alone, every one a story detailing how Robin recruited the members of his band of outlaws and their exciting adventures in helping others less fortunate.
Howard Pyle’s juvenile novel served as the inspiration for many other stories, novels, films and plays about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. One writer inspired by this classic was Scottish playwright Oliver Emanuel. His adaptation of this famous tale captures, in 75 uninterrupted minutes, enough of the action and adventure to spark the imagination and hold the interests of children ages 7 and up. It’s a story theatre version, told entirely by two talented actors playing all the roles. That in itself is unique and thrilling, but when you consider that these actors are both women, you have an entirely new vision.
What Filament has accomplished is to show that, not only is the adventurous story accessible for both boys and girls, but that this male-centric tale can be enacted by anyone. In this case, two talented actresses, Jyreika Guest and Molly Bunder, skillfully portray every character in the play. The result is that almost immediately the play becomes gender-free. Audiences don’t see two women in drag pretending to be men; they enjoy a positive, fast-paced story that’s full of risks and jeopardy. They can revel in a tale about good people who take pleasure in each other’s companionship and who enjoy helping their fellow man. It’s a story about doing what’s right and offering respect and hope to everyone. For the adults in the audience, this is something that seems to be draining out of our world today.
Directed with energy and imagination by Omen Sade, this production captures all the daring and death-defying moments from the story. Brad Caleb Lee’s spartan scenic design is dominated by a giant wooden table and some roughhewn chairs and benches, which serve multi-purposes, including becoming an elevated playing area. The upstage brick wall is piled with wood and flickers like a fireplace, thanks to Emma Deane’s fine lighting design. But much of the atmosphere of this production comes from the creative soundtrack by Michael Huey. His music and sound effects bring authenticity and an immediacy to the play.
Molly Bunder has the challenge of playing almost every character in this show. She’s the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, one minute, and then effortlessly becomes Little John, Friar Tuck and a fetching but feisty Maid Marian, the next. She captures each of these characters mostly with slight physical adjustment and a change in vocal style. Each character is individual and possesses his own personality. Ms. Bunder has the most fun as a Scottish gentle giant named John Little. Jyreika Guest is a strong, svelte and swaggering Robin Hood. In the title character, Ms. Guest is thoroughly likable and brave. She also plays the Sheriff’s snarling pet wolf, a frightening character who keeps the others at bay. Ms. Guest and Ms Bunder engage in some heart-stopping choreographed combat with staff and sword, proving that these two ladies are capable of doing any- and everything a man can do…and perhaps even better.
Filament has opened their 10th season with a bang. This vibrant, swashbuckling production is a story of vitality, valor and hope. But there’s also a lot of goodness to be found in this exciting production. Young audiences will not only remember this tale of camaraderie for its thrilling scenes of combat, but also for its lesson about generosity and kindness. That element stands out and will live on in each child’s memory. Every time a kid recalls a character called Robin Hood he’ll remember the importance of doing to others as you’d have others doing to you.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 14-March 19 by Filament Theatre, 4041
N. Milwaukee Ave.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 773-270-1660 or by going to www.filamenttheatre.org/robinhood.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.