“Robin Hood,” the classic tale of good vs. evil, comes to life with the aid of a band of Merry Men and all the boys and girls in the audience at Bethesda’s Imagination Stage. The audience is invited to join in the action as Robin Hood, played by Chris Dinolfo, leads the forces of good in the fight against the forces of greed, led by the Sheriff of Nottingham and evil King John.
The audience will be called on to help in the struggle, as they witness nail-biting duels, amazing feats of archery and miraculous escapes. “I love seeing kids involved in the story,” said Director Janet Stanford. Children are sophisticated and able to understand the difference between a story and the real world, according to Stanford, who is Imagination Stage’s founding artistic director.
Theater deals with symbolism, and by the age of 3 or 4, children can process, for example, that a mop is a stand-in for a horse as an actor gallops across the stage. “In the theater, we all become active in the moment,” Stanford said. “It should be delightful.”
And with children, the delight becomes contagious. “The idea is I can believe along with everyone else in the theater,” Stanford said.
The story begins with the actors in modern dress, living in a homeless encampment. As they tell the tale of Robin Hood, they soon exchange their modern-day attire for medieval garb and become beggars living in Sherwood Forest. On-stage musicians and broad strokes of slapstick, farce and low-brow humor help tell the story.
The character of Robin Hood is brave, arrogant and loves to challenge authority, according to Dinolfo. “He wants to help people, too,” he said.
To get a sense of how to play the character, Dinolfo watched old Robin Hood movies. He was particularly taken with Errol Flynn’s fearless, swashbuckling version of the hero. “It’s a great role that everybody knows about,” he said. “I wanted to create my own version, under the director’s guidance.” Dinolfo’s Robin Hood combines his own understanding of the character with what evolved in rehearsals and feedback from interacting with the other actors.
This “Robin Hood” was written by British author Greg Banks in 2010 and has been produced by other children’s theater companies. It is the Imagination Stage’s first Robin Hood production. “It’s a clever script,” Stanford said. She sees the play as a celebration of Robin Hood, told in a mostly upbeat manner, with live music and featuring broad comedy.
Michael Glenn enjoys the humor in his role as the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. He is thrilled to be back in a children’s theater production after many years of playing the bad guy at Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth Theatre. For a change, this is a role his 8- year-old son can see. “Playing bad guys in children’s theater involves painting with a broad brush,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun being over the top.”
And Glenn doesn’t see the sheriff as evil. The sheriff is just trying to enforce an orderly system, one where he and the king are on top, as Glenn sees it. “He’s frustrated with the idea that a thief is out there stealing money from good citizens and redistributing money to lazy, wasteful, good-for-nothing poor,” Glenn said. “He’s happy with the system. Robin Hood is a threat to the system, undermining all of my work. [The sheriff] is not a bad guy in his own mind.”
In the end, the audience will be left wondering whether or not Robin Hood was real. The answer doesn’t matter, according to Stanford. What matters is the idea of Robin Hood, the idea that somebody stood up for justice in an unjust world.
“I believe in the spirit of Robin Hood, that forming opinions and speaking out against what you consider unjust is both the privilege and responsibility of all citizens — young and old — in our democratic society,” she said. “I hope this show inspires you to find your voice and take a stand.”
“Robin Hood” runs through May 20 at the Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Shows are 10:30 a.m. weekdays, with public performances 1:30 and 4 p.m. weekends. Tickets start at $10. The show is recommended for ages 4 and older. For tickets and more information, call 301-280-1660 or visit www.imaginationstage.org.