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But they are merry, as was the audience for the opening night of Spirit Gum Theatre Company’s production at the Rhodes Arts Center.
Spirit Gum board president Janice Lovett, an actor who also taught the third-grade drama program at Summit School for 12 years, coaxes spirited performances from this large cast of unusually adept actors.
The comic timing is remarkably consistent for so large a cast. Also, across the board, the English accents are quite good. The fact that they are also varied and not tied to one particular class or region made a funny show even funnier.
“Marian” has all the components of a good swashbuckler: lots of fighting and bedding, betrayals and bold escapes. The theme of courage extends beyond the battlefield and into the realms of speaking truth to power, and bravely declaring who you are and whom you love.
Love, in all its permutations and varieties, is also given plenty of play — from the sweet camaraderie of the Merry “Men” to the ribaldry of Lady Shirley, played with gusto by Tabitha Stilwell Wilkins.
The sword fights — from one-on-one to full cast — are well done and safely performed.
Ian Winek choreographed the sequences, and Michael Kamtman is the fight captain.
In the title role of Marian/Robin, Britt Stone uses her physical comedy abilities to great advantage, while still playing the straight man, which takes on new meaning in this show. In one scene, she disguises herself as an old man; in another, she is a swishy coquette, outwitting the nasty Prince John time and again.
As the prince, John Furr nails the role of the entitled male with a sledgehammer. His hilarious performance runs the gamut of pusillanimity — from wheedling to whining to quaking. He is great — stolidly peevish, wanton, narcissistic.
I’ve never seen a face melt quite as Mark Tyler Joy’s does when his character Little John thinks lovingly of Marian. As Marian/Robin’s best buddy, Joy is a total delight: good-looking, strong, loyal, not too bright but good in a fight and tender, oh so tender, when the time is right.
Linda Shillito plays Alanna Dale and serves as a kind of narrator, explaining and tying things together. Shillito has a bright and funny face that she uses to show her many moods and make some great “acting” jokes.
Sarah Jenkins, who plays Will Scarlett, also rounded up the costumes and plays Alanna’s love interest with coy quirkiness. She is the rugged individualist seduced by sweetness.
Matt Lunnemann, Carrie Barton, Alex Boese, Jeremy Engel, Layla Grace, Sarah Jenkins, Skip Long, Haley Motsinger, Sandy Scott, Alexander Stone and Tabitha Stilwell Wilkins round out the cast. Elizabeth Rief is the stage manager.
“Marian” was first performed in 2017 by New York City’s Flux Theatre Ensemble, which commissioned it. This is Spirit Gum’s second Szymkowicz play. Its 2016 production of “Clown Bar” was one of its best-selling shows.
One of the play publisher’s taglines called “Marian” “gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing,” and so it is, done all the better with affectionate good humor.