By Adam Szymkowicz; Directed by Kelly O'Donnell
Produced by Flux Theatre Ensemble
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 2.11.17
New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street
by Molly Marinik on 2.6.17
Mike Mihm, Jack Horton Gilbert, Jessica Angleskhan, C. Bain, and T. Thompson in Marian. Photo by Isaiah Tannenbaum.
BOTTOM LINE: A new take on Robin Hood with gender identity as a central theme.
Adam Szymkowicz’s Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood is an adaptation of the classic story that puts a woman at the heart of it all. That woman is Maid Marian, and in this version there is no Robin Hood—it’s always been Marian (Becky Byers) in disguise. That’s not really a spoiler since the audience is in on it right away. Who’s not in on the secret is nearly everyone else in Nottingham. The Merry Men are none the wiser. Little John (Jack Horton Gilbert) can’t quite name the feelings he has for his best friend. And Prince John (Kevin R. Free) is merely annoyed that Marian always seems to disappear for long stretches of time.
Playing both roles, Marian has her work cut out for her—and so does Byers in a performance full of boundless energy and heart. In one moment she’s leading her band as they make the world a more equitable place and the next she’s by the greedy prince’s side giving traditional female subservience. In this version of the story, Marian isn’t the only one hiding her identity. After meeting “Robin” at an archery contest, Alanna Dale (Jessica Angleskhan) does her own Merry Man-drag to join the group. Based on the Alan-a-Dale minstrel character that appears in some versions of the Robin Hood story, Marian’s Alanna has every bit the ambition and bravado as the play’s titular character. And she gets her own legacy as the story presses on.
Women are rarely the heroes of adventure stories—particularly those that are many centuries old – but Szymkowicz doesn’t let his feminist take become indulgent or superficial. In this Robin Hood there’s no question that a woman would be as capable as a man in her leadership role. Marian’s been “leaning in” long before we join her story. She’s the OG Nasty Woman.
What’s more, gender identity is a theme throughout the play with several of the other characters addressing the topic head-on. Alanna and Will Scarlett (T. Thompson) fall for each other and while their love story blossoms and Alanna comes clean to Will that she’s a woman, she learns that Will’s gender identity isn’t what she was expecting either. Much the Miller’s Son (C. Bain) makes an announcement that although he’s known as a man he actually doesn’t identify as male or female and requests that his colleagues use the pronoun “they” moving forward. The Merry Men become The Merry Men and Much. Using this classic story to fracture the expectations of heteronormativity is a commendable endeavor, especially because it never feels gratuitous. While putting these themes on stage is worthwhile on its own, Flux Theatre Ensemble does right by actually casting gender non-conforming performers in these roles, adding both legitimacy and general decency to the topic at hand.
Gender politics aside, at its core, Marian just wants you to have a good time. From the curtain speech proclaimed by one of the actors with an over-pronounced British accent to the choreographed dance after bows, this production aims to spread joy. Creative staging by Kelly O’Donnell in conjunction with Will Lowry’s malleable sets allows the cast to run through the forest, sword fight, and defend themselves on multiple occasions with bow and arrow. Taking a page from the Peter and the Starcatcher playbook the show thrives on its own playfulness and silly energy while still tying everything up at the end. Marian manages to present something important without taking itself too seriously – and that makes it all the more resonant. It doesn’t need to overstate anything. This is feminism in action (in all its beautiful, heroic glory).
(Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood plays at the New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street, through February 11, 2017. The running time is 95 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are pay what you can with a suggested donation of $28. For tickets and more information visit fluxtheatre.org/marian.)
Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood is by Adam Szymkowicz. Directed by Kelly O'Donnell. Set Design is by Will Lowry. Lighting Design is by Jessica Greenberg. Sound Design is by Jacob Subotnick. Costume Design is by Izzy Fields. Properties Design is by Sara Slagle. Fight Direction is by Rocío Mendez. Stage Manager is Jodi M. Witherell.
The cast is Jessica Angleskhan, C. Bain, Becky Byers, Alexandra Curran, Kevin R. Free, Aaron Parker Fouhey, Jack Horton Gilbert, Mike Mihm, Marnie Schulenburg, Nandita Shenoy, T. Thompson, and Matthew Trumbull.