Los Angeles Theater Review: THE HEART OF ROBIN HOOD (The Wallis in Beverly Hills)

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by Tony Frankel on December 6, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles


Certainly one of the most gorgeous lavish sets ever seen at the Wallis, with gorgeous sumptuous costumes, and gorgeous talented athletic actors. With all of the boisterous shenanigans, you won’t be bored; there’s undeniable entertainment value. But what happens when you throw everything into a show to make sure that each possible audience member will be pleased? Indigestible slumgullion.

This is David Farr’s updated Robin Hood tale, which is kept in Sherwood Forest during the Crusades but with a contemporary sheen. Serious, silly and anachronistic (Jaws the shark’s dorsal fin makes an appearance in a pond), this swashbuckling romance offers some delightfully distracting derring-do, but collapses under the weight of too many ingredients. Odd, given the excision of some storied characters, most notably Alan-a-Dale and Friar Tuck. In their place is an upstage merry band, a female balladeer who sings directly to us, and a Friar who gets offed early on by Robin’s bad-boy gang, which is now comprised of misogynists who steal from the rich to give to…themselves. Yep, it’s Marion, daughter of King Richard, who — disguised as Martin so she can infiltrate these thugs — eventually makes heroes out of these shirtless six-pack-sporting guys, who clearly spend more time at the gym than in the forest.

So, in addition to being a “problem play” without the literature, directors Gisli Örn Gardarsson & Selma Biörnsdóttir have tossed a gallimaufry of theater styles at it, making it too brutal for kids while at the same time feeling as though it is aimed at kids, so expect to scratch your head a lot during this 140-minute two-act.

But I have to give an “A” for using every element in the book to find an audience: There’s combat, grunting, and yelling for World Wrestling Entertainment fans; a warrior cross-dressing woman who not only fights incredibly well, but she’s also a model bride — this should please both female and gender-fluid patrons; one precocious child and one brave adolescent to make the kiddies happy; an exciting but WAY overused back-wall stage-length carpeted slide for the Cirque du Soleil lovers; Shakespearean angst for the intellectuals; sadism and barbarity for the testosterone-fueled Mad Max crowd; and plenty of frou-frou stage business and muscles (take it easy, boy) to make any lover of gay pride parades hopefully look past the pandering pranks. It’s Game of Thrones, Monty Python, David Ives, Restoration Comedy, Kneehigh Company, and more.

And how’s this for desperation to please? An embarrassing, late-hour, fourth wall-breaking flirtation from Marion’s sister to front row audience members, asking where they live and making fun of “the Valley.” My friend mentioned that this device was no doubt necessary for killing time while the cast changed for the extraordinarily beautiful denouement of Robin and Marion’s nuptials, which was comprised not of dialogue but the aerial lovers swinging by a hand loop while silver paper floated around them — truly enchanting. I couldn’t figure out if this was Story Theater, Children’s Theater, a gymnastics competition, or Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament (without the dinner…and the tournament). No wonder why we don’t get the heart of The Heart of Robin Hood. I chuckled a few times; I marveled at the stunts; I loved the actors; and Börkur Jónsson’s leafy-green trap-door set is to die for. Still, I was happy to get out of the woods.

photos by Kevin Parry for The Wallis
poster photo by Luke Fontana

The Heart of Robin Hood
The Wallis and Vesturport
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Bram Goldsmith Theater
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd in Beverly Hills
ends on December 17, 2017
for tickets, call 310.746.4000 or visit The Wallis

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