A Merry Band

Gaslight Theatre turns the story of Robin Hood into its funniest show in a long time

Gaslight Theatre's treatment of The Adventures of Robin Hood is by no means a straight-arrow affair. Writer-director Peter Van Slyke has pulled from his quiver one groan-inducing gag after another, yet by the end of his assault, his show has hit every mark precisely on target. Robin Hood is Gaslight's most consistently funny and entertainingly silly production in a long time.

Van Slyke's first advantage here is that he doesn't have to come up with a plot of his own, and risk losing the narrative thread or letting it go slack. You know exactly what's going to happen; how it happens is where the inspired Gaslight lunacy comes in.

As you surely know, things are not going well in Sherwood Forest. Far offstage, John Lackland is making a play for the English throne while King Richard Lionheart is away bashing heads and getting kidnapped at the Crusades. John is ousting Richard's Saxon bureaucrats and replacing them with his unqualified Texan--er, Norman--sycophants. Among these are Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Armen Dirtadian), who is seizing all the land around Nottingham for himself and the illegally installed king. His enforcer is the brutal sheriff of Nottingham (Robert Shaw--but a much better-looking Robert Shaw than the one who played that role in the movie Robin and Marian). Sir Guy's dark-ops specialist is an unnamed countess (Deborah Klingenfus) who looks surprisingly svelte, considering that she's always cooking up nasty potions full of eye of newt and other high-trans-fat ingredients. Comic relief is provided by a lackey named Wormwood (Joe Cooper).

Meanwhile, back in the forest, a displaced nobleman, Sir Robin of Locksley (Todd Thompson), has resolved to stand up for the people, so he lurks in the woods taking from the rich and giving to the poor and being a sort of Robin Hood. No, wait--he is Robin Hood, cheered on by true love Maid Marian (Sarah Vanek) and followed by a band of merry men who are not necessarily men (notably, the one played by Tarreyn Van Slyke) and are rather cautious about the nature of their jollity. Will Scarlet (Mike Yarema) is OK with it all, but the man who comes to be known as Little John (David Orley), decked out in a not particularly masculine Peter Pan outfit, asks, "Aw, Robin, just how merry are we?" That's about as risqué as this family-friendly show gets. To reassure themselves and the audience that they're not light in the codpiece, they all break into Mel Brooks' "Men in Tights."

The musical numbers borrow not only from Brooks but also from ABBA, the Beach Boys and even further into the alphabet. The jokes borrow from every old shtick in the book, going back to vaudeville, but they all work just fine. One of the best visual gags involves legs astride a steed; it's an old Gaslight standby, but it's still hilarious.

Indeed, the visual element--mainly Tom Benson's scenic design, but also the rich costumes by Renée Cloutier--is one of Gaslight's main attractions. Benson's low-tech fakery makes possible an equestrian forest pursuit, a joust viewed from a distance and the scaling of a tower--all of which are tremendously entertaining, because they involve good stagecraft but don't try to look the least bit real.

The cast handles all the shenanigans with aplomb. Among the Gaslight regulars, the usual good guys and bad guys get to enjoy a bit of casting against type, and they consequently seem to have renewed interest in their work. They all deserve praise, but worth singling out are Thompson for his physical energy, Dirtadian for shedding his matinee-idol image and wholeheartedly indulging in a Dr. Evil delivery, and Tarreyn Van Slyke for proving that she earned her role with talent and vivacity and didn't just get it because her daddy is the director.

And let's not forget the ever-inventive musical contributions of keyboardist Linda Ackermann and drummer Jonathan Westfall. Ackermann, especially, is not only tireless but sly, working in snatches of Riverdance and a version of "Greensleeves" in the style of The Piano's Michael Nyman.

The post-Robin Hood olio is a takeoff on Laugh-In and 1960s pop music. You can't really spoof Laugh-In; just steal its recurring setups and jokes and characters, and keep up with its TV blackout pace, and you've got everything you need. Not all the impersonations are equally assured, but Klingenfus is a perfect Judy Carne; Dirtadian is a surprisingly convincing Dan Rowan; and Cooper does spot-on versions of Dick Martin and Austin Powers (don't ask).