Merry men in the hood: Emerson Stage brings Prince of Thieves to Paramount

by Beacon Staff • November 10, 2011

strongChristina Jedra, Beacon Correspondent/strong

Around the practice studio, students playfully jabbed each other with props, everything from swords and hatchets to a large plastic chicken leg. They tried on their medieval-style boots and experimented with leather belts wrapped around their 21st century clothes. “Are the nunchucks out of commission for tonight?” asked actor Patrick Curran. In few places can such a question be considered normal, but it seemed perfectly natural at a rehearsal’s for Emerson Stage’s upcoming production of emRobin Hood/em.

The show premieres to the public Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and runs through Nov. 19. Directed collaboratively by Courtney O’Connor and Ted Hewlett, the production takes on the classic tale with a modern-day twist that is packed with sharp stage combat.

Sophomore performing arts major Patrick Greeley takes the lead in the production as the rich-robbing earl-turned-thief who finds himself at odds with Sheriff of Nottingham (junior performing arts major Tyler Catanella) and Prince John (senior performing arts major Daniel Robert). Of course, Robin has his lady-love Marian, played by senior writing, literature and publishing and performing arts major Emily Skeggs, but things don’t always go smoothly for them either.

At last Wednesday’s run-through Paramount’s Studio 4, the actors delightedly scurried to their positions at the start of the run-through. Their minds were somewhere between fairytale forests and the reality that the show would premiere for visiting elementary and junior high schools in a week.

But the set was only in the actors’ imaginations: An intricate web of tape on the floor was laid down in its place. Most of the actors, many of whom had never done stage combat before this production, didn’t even work on the actual set — an elaborate series of revolving levels — until Saturday morning’s tech rehearsal.

“There was a lot to change, but it didn’t feel unnatural to do it,” said Greeley in a phone interview. “As soon as we got on, everyone’s brains went into overload because it was a lot to do and so many new ideas [were] coming from setting foot on this new terrain.” These demands, he said, prompted the actors to bring a heightened level of focus to their performances.

Elena Davis, an Emerson grad student and dramaturg for the show, worked on creating the medieval, yet modern atmosphere, beyond the set. The time-bending in the show references the tale’s century-spanning longevity.

[caption id=attachment_3813981 align=aligncenter width=267 caption=Robin Hood (Patrick Greeley, right) woos his Marian (Emily Skeggs, left). Lauren Foley/Beacon Staff]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/DSC_0221.jpgimg class=size-full wp-image-3813981 title=DSC_0221 src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/DSC_0221.jpg alt= width=267 height=400 //a[/caption]

“The story is timeless,” she said.

Greeley noted the special relevance of a story that tackles income disparity.

“The tale of Robin Hood … usually shows up in these times of economic stress,” said Greeley.

The production emphasizes that theme by giving a voice to many minor characters.

“What’s great about this production is it has the point of view of the homeless in the very beginning,” Greeley said, “so it’s a tale of emRobin Hood/em being told by the people who this economic situation affects the most.”

The show is also different in its choice of direction, namely the partnership between Hewlett and co-director, Courtney O’Connor.

“It’s unusual to have a co-director, but I find it rewarding. We share a similar aesthetic,” Hewlett said. “When we’ve disagreed, it has sharpened our opinions of the play.”

“There were times when it was confusing when they had different ideas and they had to meet just to talk it over,” said Greeley. “But it ended up being [beneficial]. I really enjoyed having two different perspectives … It opened up the spectrum of things we could do.”

Throughout Wednesday’s run through, it was evident the actors were genuinely enjoying themselves. The continuous laugh-out-loud comic relief carries the show, notably from supporting characters like a dim-witted but approval-seeking soldier, played by Shanae Burch, whose portrayal of garnered laughs from her cast members, even though they’ve seen the same scenes over and over again.

“We all just get to have fun. We make this heavy material really fun and accessible for kids,” said Emily Skeggs. “Anyone can find joy in that.”

Skeggs was especially excited about the chance to engage in stage combat.

“When I was little, I used to watch the Kevin Costner emRobin Hood/em practically every weekend … I’ve always wanted to fight,” she said. “As a little girl, I always wondered, ‘Why don’t the women fight?’”

After such an intense crash course in the world fantastical battles, Skeggs is finding herself attached to the work.

“I’m definitely going to miss kicking ass and the world we’ve created where ridiculous things happen,” she said. “Every day in here feels like a bedtime story.”

strongRobin Hood will premiere for the public Saturday, Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on the Paramount Mainstage. On Sunday, Nov. 13 it will be performed at 2:00 p.m. On Friday, Nov. 18, it will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Its last performance is Saturday, Nov. 19 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 for the Emerson community. /strong

emJedra can be reached at christina_jedra@emerson.edu./em