Theater review: ‘Robin Hood: Quest for Justice’ by Montford Park Players

TREACHERY IN THE TREES: Miles Rice as Robin Hood and Clara Burrus as Maid Marian perform in the Montford Park Players' latest installment of the adventures of Sherwood Forest and its inhabitants. Photo by Sebastian Michaels

Villains lurk in the forest, the castle and in Robin Hood’s own ranks. He and his Merry Men and Women continue their fight for the everyday folk in the world premiere production of Robin Hood: Quest for Justice at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater through Saturday, July 27.

King Richard’s enemies have taken him captive during the Crusades. The evil Prince John (played by Dakota Mann) plots to seize power and solidify his control over the territory he covets. Key to this plan is Maid Marian (Clara Burrus), who may have to wed the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Mark Lieberman) and, thus, lose control of her property. Layers of intrigue allow for a complex narrative of plots and counterplots, but, most importantly, Maid Marian sides with Robin Hood (Miles Rice), both in the pursuit of justice and love.

A ragtag band of guerrilla fighters in Sherwood Forest follows Robin Hood’s lead. They rely upon each other’s skill and code of honor to fight against Prince John and the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham (David Mycoff). The odds appear overwhelmingly not in Robin’s favor.

Whether the Merry Men and Women are working their day jobs at the tavern or spying on the prince in the castle, the supporting cast invigorates the show. They are integral to the vitality of the play, which requires humor when bad deeds could easily overwhelm the tone. Karl Knierim (Allan A’Dale) provides musical interludes that propel the plot. His vocals and guitar playing serve as welcome moments of lyrical levity.

Will Scarlett (Haven Volpe), one of the Merry Men, insists he’s not merry. He’s a grumpy, headstrong fighter. However, in a key moment of bleakness, Will finds something beyond his own misery: He’s able to comfort a frightened child. As they languish in prison, awaiting execution for treason, Volpe delivers a sensitive, moving performance.

Act II is where the swashbuckling fight scene and plot twists emerge, which fans of the Robin Hood stories enjoy most. The hero displays all of the physicality of a man on the fringes of the law. He darts among the trees, hides in plain sight and bounds through the audience and onto the stage.

Fight choreographer Jered Shults, who also plays Robin’s archenemy, Cedric, makes full use of the two-tiered stage to bring movement and excitement to the sword scenes. And death scenes, too, require careful staging. These moments resonate with surprise, sadness and, ultimately, satisfaction.

Rice and Burrus convincingly ground the love story between Robin Hood and Maid Marian in tenderness. Their love is restrained and abiding.

Director Michael Lilly also knows his Robin Hood film history. He renders a faithful stage adaptation that audiences have enjoyed for over 80 years. This premiere exploration of the legend was penned by Robert Akers and Xpress contributor Jeff Messer.

Outdoor theater remains the best way to experience the Robin Hood stories, and the amphitheater’s setting, full of the sounds of nature, adds to the overall enjoyment of the play.

WHAT: Robin Hood: Quest for Justice
WHERE: Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre, 92 Gay St., montfordparkplayers.org
WHEN: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through Saturday, July 27. Free to attend, donations accepted. Chair rentals available for $3.

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About Patricia Furnish
Patricia Furnish is a North Carolina native who loves history, Spanish, and the visual arts. She is also a documentary filmmaker. Follow me @drpatriqua

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