OREGON, MASSACHUSETTS and ARIZONA: Robin Hood might be robbing the rich and giving to the poor at a theatre in your area this season, especially if you live within an arrow’s shot of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., or Childsplay in Tempe, Ariz. The trio of productions in the quiver this year are made up of two family-oriented works: The Heart of Robin Hood, created for the U.K.’s Royal Shakespeare Company by its associate director David Farr and mounted there from November 2011 to January 2012, and Greg Banks’s Robin Hood.
Banks developed the latter piece, a 70-minute work running at Childsplay Sept. 8–Oct. 6, for Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, which has previously offered his adaptations Antigone (2003), Huck Finn (2007), Romeo and Juliet (2009) and Pinocchio (2013). Banks’s rendering of the Robin Hood legend takes on a darker tone than his other compositions, framing the show as a story-within-a-story as performed by a small band of panhandlers and buskers who lament their poverty, bringing to mind the nation’s current economic issues, before delivering the central tale.
The Heart of Robin Hood, a full-length piece appearing at OSF through Oct. 12 and, in a separate production, at ART (Dec. 10–Jan. 19), also takes a mature approach to the material. The play’s London outing was staged by Gisli Örn Gardarsson and adapted by Farr; the two previously collaborated on Kafka’s Metamorphosis for the U.K.’s Lyric Hammersmith and Iceland’s Vesturport Theatre, so it makes sense that this rendition of the Robin Hood legend is relatively gritty. (Gardarsson will return to the director’s chair for ART’s production.)
That is not to say that The Heart of Robin Hood is bleak. OSF artistic director Bill Rauch notes that he was specifically interested in producing a version of the tale that would both entertain and address the financial issues facing the U.S. “I was thinking about being in the Occupy Wall Street era and about economic injustice,” Rauch comments, adding that he wanted something vibrant to fill the space at OSF’s 1,200-seat outdoor Elizabethan Stage. Significantly, Farr’s adaptation foregrounds the role of Maid Marion: Echoing Shakespeare’s As You Like It (a play in which, incidentally, Robin Hood is referenced), the heroine dresses in men’s clothing to get closer to Robin. It is she who teaches him that he should use thievery not for personal gain but to help the needy.
The connection to the Bard was one of the qualities that initially attracted Rauch. “I was curious about the play because it was created for the RSC. I loved its playfulness. And I loved that Marion was the protagonist—the heart of the story.” Bull’s-eye.