As students from Liberty Elementary School got seated for a preview performance of the Rose Theater's “Robin Hood” Thursday, four “homeless” people wandered through the rows of seats. One sang songs, another led an imaginary dog by its collar, another bellowed he wanted to get a “sammich.”
These homeless people were the four actors in the play, and they seamlessly moved from the audience into the action on and in front of the stage. Thus began a boisterous production that transformed the four unfortunates into the characters of the “Robin Hood” play.
Their lively action and discourse continued for the entire play, right up to its surprising and magical ending.
Alex Aspiazu, Brian Guehring, Walter Shatley and Ben Whiting were called upon to change characters and costumes multiple times, and to occasionally serve as narrators. They were always up to the task, unflagging in their enthusiasm and projecting wonderful characterizations. The audience was always aware of whom each actor was portraying at any given moment. Guehring as Prince John, Will Scarlett, a soldier, Little John and Friar Tuck was particularly effective in changing his persona.
At times, it seemed there had to be more than four actors in this show. Matthew Gutschick has directed his quartet of players well.
The only criticism — and it is a very slight one — is there were a few moments when the actors' humorous actions and continuous motion made some of their funniest asides or lines get swallowed by breathless, too-low voices or by other speakers.
I don't think that mattered whatsoever to the audience, which gave spirited assistance to the actors on several occasions. The kids were asked to clap and shout out phrases like “Long live Robin Hood,” and a few lucky ones got to do a country dance and take part in a gunny sack race onstage.
Sometimes the spectators even offered an unsolicited reaction, like booing the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham or screeching an “ewww” when Robin kissed Marian.
The set design by Jeff Stander is clever, and Callyann Casteel's costumes are wonderfully inventive.
Although really young children probably will enjoy the exaggerated characters and swordplay, I'm not sure they will understand the nuances of this “Robin Hood.” That may not be important. The third- through sixth-graders from Liberty had a jolly time, whether they understood the juxtaposition from the homeless to the Robin Hood characters or not. I do hope a few understood why the Robin Hood story would appeal to the helpless.
The preview show was a little longer than its 60-minute running time, but that could be because of the enthusiastic participation from the audience. I didn't hear anyone complain.
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What: Family stage drama
Where: Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St.
When: Tonight through Oct. 27. Showtimes: 7 p.m. Fridays; 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets: $18 all seats. Discount vouchers at Hy-Vee supermarkets. Reservations required.
Information: 402-345-4849 or rosetheater.org