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Theater review: Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood queers a legendary outlaw

Written by
Helen Shaw

Only the arrows fly straight in Adam Szymkowicz's comedy, Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood, a sweet farce about a radically diverse Sherwood Forest. It's the up-to-date version of enlightened brigandage: Szymkowicz and Flux Theatre Ensemble steal from the cisgender heterosexual white male and give to—well, everybody else.Robin Hood turns out to be a disguised Maid Marian (Becky Byers); many of the Merry Men don't identify as such; the palace guards are super into each other. And while Prince John (Kevin R. Free) has a passel of concubines, he also has eyes for the Sheriff of Nottingham's cute backside.

Kelly O'Donnell's production is charming in the details (thanks to sparkling cast members), but as a whole, Marian drags. Some of the fault lies in the text: Szymkowicz misjudges his ratio of action to romance, and bogs down the pace as a result. The fight sequences (choreographed by Rocío Mendez) are zippy little comic episodes, but in between, events keep slowing down for people to go all sappy. Most fables can—just barely—support one love story; this one has three. O'Donnell can't figure out a way to get through that material fast enough, so what should be a swift 80-minute caper turns into an attenuated 100-minute slog.

Luckily, we can rely on the actors for the occasional bull's eye. Downtown treasure Matthew Trumbull does a great idiot-guard routine; he looks like he's been bonked by a halberd immediately before walking onstage. Nandita Shenoy's tart-tongued Lady Shirley strikes up real sparks with Mike Mihm, who (hilariously) plays her lovers, the Sheriff and Friar Tuck, as two versions of Jason Statham. (That would be Mad Jason Statham and Handsy Jason Statham, respectively.) But best of all is Byers herself, a tiny hummingbird of a person, who has to do a full-extension jumping roundhouse kick just to reach her opponents' belt-buckles. She performs with such vivid gladness, you can't help but be happy right back at her. In her is everything that's best and most infectious about Szymkowicz's play, and its message, too. Fight tyranny with joy, she seems to say: You cannot help but win.

New Ohio Theatre (Off-Off Broadway). By Adam Szymkowicz. Directed by Kelly O'Donnell. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission. Through Feb 11. Click here for full venue and ticket information.

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