THEATER REVIEW: “Ken Ludwig’s Sherwood” @ Cleveland Play House by Roy Berko

Photos by Roger Mastroianni

Through Sun 2/24

Ken Ludwig’s first Broadway play, Lend Me a Tenor, has been called “one of the two great farces by a living writer.” It won three Tony Awards. Ludwig has gone on to win another Tony Award, two Helen Hayes Awards and the Edward Award. It is no wonder, therefore, that plays by the “the purveyor of light comedy” have been performed by almost every regional theatre in America.

Ludwig’s major works include Leading LadiesMoon Over BuffaloThe Game’s AfootBaskerville, The Sherlock Holmes Mystery and A Comedy of Tenors. His musicals include Crazy for You and An American in Paris. Many of these have been seen on CLE stages.

Ken Ludwig’s Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood is a romp full of swashbuckling and romance, and it’s also a moving tale of a young man’s discovery that everyone has a responsibility to care for his fellow man.

The script, which is set in Sherwood Forest and the town of Nottingham, England, around 1194, is peopled by Greedy Prince John (Price Waldman) and his bad henchmen — Sir Guy of Gisbourne, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and the good guys — the dashing “outlaw” Robin Hood, the band of Merry Men (and women), the lovely Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, Little John, Deorwynn and King Richard the Lionheart.

Knowing a little about England in the twelfth century helps to understand the conflicts that evolve. A quick picture shows that “English society is a feudalist one with a king and royal family at the top, countless peasants and serfs at the bottom, and knights and nobles in between.” About a hundred years before this tale enfolds, William the Conqueror, a Norman descendent of the Vikings, earned his title by conquering England. His success set up an ongoing battle between the Normans and Saxons. (An excellent abbreviated explanation is contained in the CPH program that is well worth reading before the play.)

As is the case with Ludwig’s other plays, farce and slapstick run wild. Add sword fights and arrows flying around the stage, direct involvement of the audience,and lots of chaos, and you have the possibility of delight.

To make farce work, a creative director and a disciplined cast are needed. Having an inventive set designer also helps. Fortunately for the audience, CPH has all the necessary requirements. Director Adam Immerwahr has a long resume of directing shows that are “wildly funny and full of heart.” His local directing includes well-reviewed productions of The Games Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays), A Comedy of Errors and Baskerville; A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.

Immerwahr pulls out all the stops for Sherwood. Shticks, gimmicks and slapstick abound. Swords clang, actors fly around stage with abandonment, sexual innuendoes erupt, ramparts are attacked, actors fall off buildings and are pummeled with glee. It’s all in good fun. Farce at its very best.

Misha Kachman’s impressive set, complete with a massive tree, platforms and a revolving center stage which is cleverly used for moving set pieces, fight sequences and acting stunts, becomes as much a performer as a visual delight. Allen Suddeth’s fight scenes are obviously staged, but delight with their well-executed movements. The sequences often not only evoke laughter, but prolonged applause.

The cast is universally strong. The good guys are pure and innocent, and the bad guys are evil to the core. The audience got into the mood of the piece by cheering on our heroes and booing the evil-doers.

Handsome Zack Powell is Robin Hood, swashbucklingly perfect, displaying an impish quality that made the character endearing. Amy Blackman as his lady love, Maid Marian, nicely textures her acting and shows masterful physical moves as the “#Times Up” modern woman before her generation.

As Little John, the physically imposing Jonah D. Winston got laughs on his entrance and got more and more guffaws as the show developed. Our “narrator,” Doug Hara’s Friar Tuck, led the audience on a delightful journey.

Josh Innerst is so successful in developing Sir Guy of Gisbourne as a bad guy that he got well-deserved “boos” on his curtain call entrance. And Steven Rattazzi is delightfully pseudo-evil as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

 

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Sherwood is for those who love to laugh at the ridiculous and see a well-written farce performed at the highest level. The staging, the acting, the technical aspects are superb. Go…laugh…escape from the ridiculousness of what’s going on in this country and the world, and have a good time.

Ken Ludwig’s Sherwood the Adventures of Robin Hood runs through Sun 2/24 at Allen Theatre in PlayhouseSquare. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to clevelandplayhouse.com.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

 

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