Sylvia Center for the Arts presents Marian, or the True Tale of Robin Hood

While visiting my parents in Bellingham, we picked up this sweet, raucous outdoor play: Marian retells the Robin Hood story from a differently-gendered perspective. It was great fun. The evening was perfect, quickly cooling as the sun went down (not quite in our eyes) until we were all wearing our fleece jackets. We sat on concrete stadium-style benches in Marine Heritage Park, a downtown park with a sizable homeless/loitering population that, I think, events like this hope to reclaim in some way, or, they hope to help renovate the park’s reputation. (It was fine.) The set was simple – the troupe lugged it there, up and down a hill, by hand – but perfect. As I’ve written before, the set shouldn’t carry a play’s weight; elaborate sets and costumes can be great, but the acting and the play itself should do the heavy lifting.

The story opens in the usual spot, at an archery contest with grumpy Prince John presiding and Robin Hood in disguise. Except that Robin Hood is Maid Marian, already in disguise: that’s right, Marian is Robin Hood, yielding lots of costume/disguise changes and two-people-never-seen-in-the-same-place stuff. Marian/Robin should be our protagonist, but that role is shared by a character named Alanna, a lady-in-waiting, who does a certain amount of audience-facing narration, and (slight spoiler) ends up joining the Merry Men early in the play. Few of the Merry Men, in fact, are men at all.

Gender-bending is a theme, and while gender-bending is as old as gender conceptions (and absolutely Shakespearean), there were some modern twists here, including one of the Merry Men requesting they/them pronouns and a change to the group’s title to ‘Merry Men and Much.’ (All well-received.) Also, the script was an interesting mix of an older, more formal diction and a modern slangy one, which I think is always a good tool: once you’ve primed your audience to expect that period-style talk, the modern usages become totally hilarious in context. There was lots of physical humor as well, and no small amount of romance. We the audience were in stitches.

This production was more amateur than some: a few actors stumbled over a few lines, and the sound system (or the microphones? during costume changes?) cut in and out a bit. No problem. As I’ve written more than once, I love to see passionately produced and talented amateur theatre, even if there are a few glitches as here; and there is no question that this play was produced with passion and talent. I had a fabulous time; I was super disappointed when the play ended and wanted it to go on for hours.

Thanks, Sylvia Center folks, for romance and hilarity and poignancy. Hooray for Marian and her Merry People.


Rating: 9 arrows for joy.

2 Responses

  1. Thanks!
    I’m glad you did such a fine job relating this entertaining & provocative production. This kind of ‘amateur’ yet impactful theatre work is indeed a Bham specialty, and you describe all the wonderful yin & yang of that nicely. I often ponder why this is, arising as it does from a mere core of this now-sprawling small town. Quite simply, it must be what distinguishes a real ‘arts community’.

    Three other recent & similarly nuanced productions illustrate the diverse source of this, besides the Sylvia Center itself (and I know that at least two of these contributed talent to ‘Marian’ – likely all three):

    Western Washington Univ (WWU) theater presented the classic ‘Lysistrata’ by Aristophanes; a crew of talented women adapted, directed and passionately acted the resulting powerful commentary on our times.

    Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth (BAAY, 12-18yrs) presented the musical ‘Chicago’ using the official ‘high school edition’ but also replicating much of Bob Fosse’s own choreography. In both song & energetic dance, the group over-achieved with this racy cabaret gambol; several older girls were exceptional in filling bawdy lead roles.

    Bellingham Theatre Guild presented the now-classic musical ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ (1973 play, ’78 film, ’83 musical); while the original was sensational in its time, it also resonates strongly today. With a mix of both new & usual players, this sometimes-staid troupe had sellout crowds laughing & crying with its flamboyant & lovable characters. We swore there were women mixed into the 6-drag queen cabaret chorus; they were all men.

    (Period-clues: in ‘La Cage’ there were several language usages – self-references, it must be noted – in the dialogue that identified it with the period, some not typical or acceptable today. E.g. the former: ‘homosexual’ rather than gay man; or the latter: ‘transvestite’ rather than drag queen.)

    • I love Lysistrata! (though I’ve only read it, never seen it performed); I love Chicago! and I recall La Cage aux Folles, although I am confounded on this last. I swear I watched a version in high school, from the Hollywood Video on Montrose. But neither the French nor the American version (with Robin Williams) looks familiar now.

      It’s a strong observation about ‘homosexual’ and ‘transvestite’ language. We have to be careful with our words. I’m especially curious about the latter, which is a term I’ve never known to be acceptable to the community, but I can’t speak to 1973 or ’78.

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