Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Look About You at the American Shakespeare Center

"Don't you worry, never fear.   Robin Hood will soon be here."  - Little John, Rabbit Hood, Warners Bros.

There are many, many interpretations of the folk character, Robin Hood in literature, film and upon the stage.    He has been portrayed as the dashing hero, a sexy man in tights, a world weary crusader and a klutzy duck trying to impress a pig friar. (Robin Hood Daffy).  The American Shakespeare Center has revived a play, author unknown, that was written around 1595, in which the character of Robin Hood is prominently a part of the story.    Yet it is a very different Robin Hood that greets the audience at the Blackfriars Playhouse.    He's handsome, brave and loyal...and looks just lovely in a dress.

Look About You shares a lot of elements with William Shakespeare's history plays.    It is set during the reign of King Henry II (Paul Jannise).   Henry has crowned his eldest son, Henry the Young King (Jeremy West) , as joint ruler of England.   Out of jealousy, Henry II's queen, Elinor of Aquitaine (Allison Glenzer) has ordered Henry II's mistress, the fair Rosamund murdered.   This has been carried out with the blessing of the Young King, by Robin Hood's servant, Skink (John Harrell).   Robin Hood (Patrick Midgley) is good friends with Prince Richard, the future Lionheart (Gregory Jon Phelps).   Prince Richard desires to fight in the Holy Land.   His younger brother, Prince John (Jeremiah Davis) craves titles.    The courtier, Robert, Duke of Gloucester(Benjamin Curns) plainly speaks his mind to the two Kings and for his truthfulness in warning Henry II not to trust his sons is imprisoned as a traitor.    Meanwhile, Skink, who will prove a master of disguise, eludes capture.

That is the extent of the history part of the plot.    In truth, Look About You is a roaringly funny comedy in which almost every character at one point dons a disguise.    Some of the disguises are absurd, yet the talented company at the Blackfriars gamely embraces each one making the impossibility of how anyone could not figure out who the person really is work for a very entertained audience.   The master of this is John Harrell's wily Skink.   If you keep a scorecard, Skink dons no less than eight separate disguises, and Mr. Harrell takes on some mannerism of the actor portraying the character he is pretending to be which adds to his deliciously rich performance.

Benjamin Curns, as the wronged Gloucester carries a strong presence in his more serious role as the punished for being honest courtier.     As Redcap, a stuttering messenger, Chris Johnston plays a very high energy fool and his mastery of the speech impediment is a marvel to behold.  

The romantic subplot involves Prince Richard's attempts to woo and win as his mistress, Lady Marian (Miriam Donald), the sister of Gloucester and the wife of the elderly Sir Richard Fauconbridge(Tyler Moss).   Mr. Moss is physically very flexible and he creates a comedic gem in his rubbery yet enthusiastic Fauconbridge.    Prince Richard sends his faithful Robin Hood, here the noble Earl of Huntingdon, to prepare Lady Marian for his suit of love.   Lady Marian turns the tables, by having Robin impersonate her as she dons a disguise in the hopes of winning her brother's freedom.  

Of the wooing of Robin as Marian by Prince Richard, the less revealed.   It is simply hilarious.   And Mr. Midgley is absolutely adorable.

Being a comedy, every thing ends happily.    And so to, will your visit to the Blackfriars Playhouse after two hours of merry mirth upon the stage.    This is a rare opportunity to see a play that has not been revived in 400 years.   Please don't miss it.

Look About You, author unknown, will be presented as part of the Actors Renaissance Season at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia in repertoire with William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors and Henry VI, Part 3, John Marston's The Malcontent and Thomas Middleton's A Trick to Catch the Old One through April 3, 2011.   For tickets and performance information please visit www.americanshakespearecenter.com.

The Thespian's Extra Note: During the winter Actors Renaissance Season, there are no directors or designers.   The American Shakespeare Center recreates what extensive research believes were the conditions that Shakespeare's acting company would have used to stage a play.The actors receive only cue scripts containing their lines and a short "cue", the last few words of the preceding actor's line.   They are responsible for acquiring their own costumes and props from the stock available at the theater.   There is a prompter on the side of the stage in case someone forgets a line.  The rehearsal period is a matter of days.

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