The body count is surprisingly high in “The Boy and Robin Hood,” playwright Tyler Mills’ striking and violent new take on an old legend that opened Saturday at the Ritz Theater. Like previous versions of “Robin Hood,” Mills’ two-act show orbits the Sherwood Forest outlaw and his merry men as they take the king’s gold and redistribute it to the poor.
But the playwright highlights the bloody underside of their jollity. People die by twisted swords, throat-slitting knives and winging arrows. Death be mighty proud.
“Robin Hood” is the first production by Trademark Theater, founded by Twin Cities performer Tyler Michaels, who smoothly directs and choreographs a show that looks like the work of a mature company.
It takes place on a set of oversized, gauzy trees designed by Sarah Brandner. The capable acting ensemble includes Nathan Barlow, who has been a favorite on Twin Cities stages for nearly two decades, and Jason Rojas, who also has extensive credits at the Guthrie and elsewhere. There’s also live musical underscoring (pianist Nic Delcambre conducts the four-piece band) plus a choral ensemble that delivers David Darrow’s keening, rustic songs. The music gives the show a mythical, almost cinematic feel and helps to place this “Robin Hood” in the realm of the fantastic. This Sherwood Forest is just a hop from Middle Earth.
As its title indicates, “The Boy and Robin Hood” is as much about a lad (Peder Lindell) who suffers misfortune and ends up in the forest, where he’s adopted by Robin’s men, including Alan (Barlow), Friar (Theo Langason) and Robin himself (Riley McNutt). The Boy also encounters Marian (Kendall Anne Thompson, poised and powerful), who used to be a strong woman in Robin’s band but, after tiring of woodland life, has settled near the edge of the forest. All of these characters help the Boy as he comes unexpectedly of age.
Lindell, 14, who looks like an adolescent version of Michaels, is quite a light in this production. This eighth-grader has the chops and charisma to keep us on his side, even if his journey of growth and discovery involves him in the outlaws’ orgy of killing.