Derek Goldman takes us inside Sherwood Forest with young Robin Hood and its Sheriff

Even legends have to go through the awkward years.

Take that icon – stealing from the rich and giving to the poor – Robin Hood. Celebrated in song and story for hundreds of years, Sherwood Forest’s most famous resident was once a teenager, just like an average guy, with girl problems and troubles at home. But for sixteen-year old Robin, his problems also include learning lessons about nature and defending his family against a nasty Sheriff of Nottingham.

This is the premise of Young Robin Hood, a world premiere production, now playing at Round House Theatre – Bethesda through December 30.

Described by director Derek Goldman as a re-imagining of the legendary character, Young Robin Hood puts the audience back in the time of the Crusades, when men defended themselves with sword and quarterstaff. The Sheriff of Nottingham is still making life difficult for the common folk, and Sherwood Forest is still the center of much of the action.

But Jon Klein’s new, family friendly play looks at familiar characters from the Robin Hood stories – the Sheriff, Marian, Robin himself – in new ways. In Klein’s version, the forest surrounding Sherwood also has deeper meaning.

And so, follow along as we go deeper into this new version of the classic story with actors Joe Isenberg and Mitchell Hébert and the show’s director Derek Goldman.

Jeff Walker:  How is Young Robin Hood different from other versions of the story?

Derek Goldman (Photo courtesy of Georgetown University)

Derek Goldman (Photo courtesy of Georgetown University)

Derek Goldman:  It is an imagining of the adolescent years of Robin Hood. Robin Hood is one of those stories that is really iconic and many of us have some relationship with, but is actually itself quite a diverse set of stories and versions of the legends. People’s relationship to this story is very dependent on whether they’ve experienced it through Disney, or Errol Flynn, or Kevin Costner or not at all. Many of the younger audience members of the audience may be experiencing the characters for the first time.

What I think Jon Klein has done that’s really beautiful is to create a window into this reimagining of the characters. It will be exciting for people who know the story – to see characters in a new, unlikely way and yet, for kids who have no idea who Robin Hood is, it has all the parts of the story that still makes us love this story century after century, in terms of the sense of adventure, and humor and justice and exploring, nobility and what it is that is worth fighting for. It’s just a good old, great fun time with a lot of deeper values and relationships at the core of it.

Tell us about the cast.

Derek: It’s really a dream cast. I don’t need to say much about them since these are performers whose reputations precede them, some of the finest and most experienced actors. What I think is unusual with a world premiere that is aimed at the whole family, is that a piece like this doesn’t always get the opportunity to premiere with such wise, sophisticated performers who have played dozens of Shakespearean roles and have developed many new plays and worked at all of these theatres. What I think this has afforded us, I hope, is a kind of depth of characterization that people don’t typically associate with theatre for young audiences.

Talk a little more about the story. Joe, you play young Robin. Let’s start with him.

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Joe Isenberg plays young Robin Hood (Photo: Danish Crosby)

Joe Isenberg: Two big questions of the story are: What are the laws of the forest and who can hunt there? Only the royal family has access to the game, and the forester helps manage it all. Here comes Robin, this angsty 16-year old who finds a young woman and her falcon in the forest hunting pigeons. Robin tries to take care of the situation, but she turns out to be much spunkier than he bargained for.

In this script, Robin is 16, so younger and more of an adolescent than what people are familiar with. Purists might find it shocking. Robin has an adoptive father, William Fitzooth, who is the king’s forester, so he is already connected to the royal family. But Joe Klein tries to establish Robins’ roots as to why he chooses to break the rules and go against the establishment.

Mitchell, how does your character, the Sheriff, play into this new telling of the story?

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Mitchell Hébert as the Sheriff of Nottingham (Production photo: Danisha Crosby)

Mitchell Hébert: What Joe Klein has done with him is very interesting. He has some of the flair. He’s certainly the dark force in the play. And he is funny. He is also a dad – in this version Marian is his daughter. He’s really trying hard to stay connected with her, and is having a really hard time with that. Marian sees what’s become of her father, and how he’s become corrupt. She’s the mirror to his conscience; she keeps pointing out to him where he’s gone wrong. He’s really having a hard time trying to reconcile between being the father he wants to be to her and acting upon serving Prince John.

So the Sheriff really has it out for William and Robin. He gives them the opportunity to join him at the beginning of the play, which he doesn’t take well.

Do villains have more fun?

Mitchell:  To me, playing a role like the Sheriff is a ball, because he has big appetites. And he has given himself permission to do things that most of us don’t allow ourselves to do. So, yes, it’s very satisfying to play a role like this.

How different is young Marian – played by Laura C. Harris?

Joe:  The girl Robin meets in the forest turns out to be Marian, the Sheriff’s daughter. Their encounter in the first scene sets the stage for a flirty, conflict-filled relationship and the stakes get much higher. Robin knows she’s demanding and he eventually figures out the best thing to do is just to listen to her.

Mitchell: She’s smart, she’s capable, she has ambitions, but a lot of those things are limited to her by her gender. She’s not happy about that, so she pushes back. Maybe another girl in a different situation might not push back, but she’s determined to have something more in her life. It’s hard for her father since he’s very traditional and insists upon obedience and upon his word being law. Marian doesn’t see it that way. He is having a hard time with that.

What all the kids want to know – is their swordplay?

Derek: It has some great, fun fights, and each one is different than the last. They are surprising and have just the right amount of ‘scary.’ But they are rooted in real relationships and real conflict which means they are never just moves and poses. I think they are really theatrically inventive.

Joe: Due to safety concerns, the archery is stylized. Shooting projectiles in the theatre makes people nervous. We do have a quarter staff sequence that starts the show, and there is a bit of sword work. This is my first time collaborating with fight director Casey Kaleba. It is a privilege to bring his fight choreography to life. I think it will be very exciting, especially for [people in] the first rows.

Does the Sheriff get in on the action, too?

Mitchell: Yes, there are a couple of fights at the end. I have a fight with both Philip and Robin. Philip [Davis Chandler Hasty] is the son of Sir Guy of Gisbourne and becomes the Sheriff’s protégé during the play. I’m trying to drag him over to my side of the law and he betrays me at the end. We have a big fight and then I have a fight with Robin.

Highly Recommended
Young Robin Hood
Closes December 30, 2012
Round House Theatre – Bethesda
4545 East-West Highway |
Bethesda, MD
2 hours with 1 intermission
Tickets: $26 – $53
Children’s tickets: $10 – $15
Wednesdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets

Let’s talk about Sherwood Forest.

Joe: It is Robin’s home, not just the place he goes to run around. Thanks to his father, Robin has this appreciation for the forest, so it’s very Eco-friendly. The forest represents the Earth mother, a place to go when you are lost. This Robin has a great respect for nature. This play really gives a shout out to taking care of the Earth.

How does the Sheriff fit into the world of the forest?

Mitchell: I feel that the Sheriff is like the living and breathing embodiment of the 1 percent. In the production, they really set it up nicely – he wears a lot of furs and he sits on a big throne with deer antlers on it. He uses the environment to please himself. The foresters are, of course, like the 99 percent and they feel like this forest is for everybody, not just the elite.

Derek: We have this beautiful set and light and sound designed world and the Spirit of the Forest, played by Emma Jaster, so the forest is really a character. The play, without being preachy at all, does have a powerful message about nature and balance and what it means to take care of the world, in every sense of that phrase – to take care of each other, to take care of the Earth and the forest, take care of yourself. So without feeling at all preachy, it’s a play that has some really deep values to impart that parents will be excited to share with their kids while the kids are having a great time.

Young Robin Hood is family-friendly, but not just for kids, correct?

Mitchell: I think it’s certainly playable for adults, it’s not just a kids show. I think the best children’s theatre is stuff that adults enjoy equally with their kids.

Derek: Jon Klein’s done a great job on the script and we’ve worked really hard to build deep rewards for folks of all ages and all levels of experience with this story.

Joe, is there anything else you would like to share?

Joe: It’s been a fantastic process and I think anyone who sees the show is going to have a good time.

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