Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood
PlayMakers Repertory Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

The Cast
Photo by HuthPhoto
The story of Robin Hood has been retold a number of times in the past few decades. Though scholars are unsure of the legend's origin, a recent survey by London's Royal Mail found that Robin Hood was the person, past or present, whom British school children most wished to meet. No matter what form his story takes, the heroism of Robin Hood and his claim that "an injury to one is a wrong done to all" ring true. PlayMakers Repertory Company at UNC has taken on a contemporary reworking of this legend in Ken Ludwig's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, currently playing at the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art through September 30.

In this production, Robin Hood (a capable Joshua David Robinson) is joined as always by his band of merry men, including Little John (Rishan Dhamija) and Friar Tuck (standout Dan Toot). They work to protect those oppressed by high taxes and brutal force under the rule of the tyrant Prince John (a comedic Ray Dooley) and his not-so-merry men in the characters of the Sheriff of Nottingham (Tristan Parks) and Sir Guy (Jeffrey Blair Cornell). Maid Marian (the lovely Christine Mirzayan) is present, though not necessarily the damsel in distress one might expect. That purpose is served more by the character of Doerwynn (a delightful April Mae Davis), who plays a more significant role than in other versions of this story.

Friar Tuck serves as the evening's balladeer and emcee, and he leads with an opening number that highlights the rules of theatre etiquette to humorous effect, setting the mood for the evening to come. Though this show is not considered a musical, the music adds a great deal. The production is highlighted by brief moments of song and dance, frequently led by Much the Miller, played by Jack Herrick, who is also the composer and lyricist for the production. Mr. Herrick won a Tony Award with his band The Red Clay Ramblers in 1993 for the music for Fool Moon, and he brings the medieval minstrel back to life. In truth, a full-fledged musical treatment might tighten up some dragging moments in the second act.

Playwright Ken Ludwig, who has received two Tony nominations for his classic play Lend Me a Tenor, brings a sense of humor to this old story. His version doesn't stray too far from other, recent incarnations; I noticed references to the 1991 Kevin Costner vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as well as to the classic 1973 Disney animated version.

Under the keen eye of director Jessie Austrian, making her PlayMakers debut, the creative team clearly has had a blast. Scenic design by PlayMakers regular McKay Coble features multiple levels, with fireman poles and hangman nooses to give the cast creative ways to move around. Rui Rita is effective in his first PlayMakers outing as lighting director, helping our imaginations to fill in the space. Costume design by Tracy Christensen sticks to traditional interpretations of these characters but adds touches of creative whimsy.

Beneath all the singing and dancing and fun, one of the key themes that distinguishes this telling of Robin Hood is the idea that heroes are not born but made. The choices we make ultimately make us who we are, and that idea feels particularly important in this moment. The production of this play, which emphasizes the importance of communal action in bringing about positive change, was delayed in the wake of the devastation brought to North Carolina by Hurricane Florence. Even before that, the production had joined forces with various campus and community organizations and social service providers to, as Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch said, "take the flame of Robin and rekindle in us concrete action," a sentiment that resonates even more strongly this week.

PlayMakers Repertory Company's Sherwood: The Adventures of Robin Hood, through September 30, 2018, at the Paul Green Theatre at the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill NC. Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at 919-962-7529.

Playwright: Ken Ludwig
Original Music: The Red Clay Ramblers' Jack Herrick
Director: Jessie Austrian
Fight Director: Kara Wooten
Scenic Design: McKay Coble
Costume Design: Tracy Christenson
Lighting Design: Rui Rita
Sound Design: Melanie Chen Cole
Choreographer: Tracy Bersley

Cast (In alphabetical order):
Sir Guy: Jeffrey Blair Cornell
Doerwynn: April Mae Davis
Little John: Rishan Dhamija
Prince John: Ray Dooley
Much the Miller: Jack Herrick
Maid Marian: Christine Mirzayan
Sheriff of Nottingham: Tristan Parks
Robin Hood: Joshua David Robinson
Friar Tuck: Dan Toot