On Friday night, Spirit Gum Theatre Company opens its latest production, “Marian, or The True Tale of Robin Hood” by Adam Szymkowicz. It’s the group’s second Szymkowicz play, following their 2016 production of “Clown Bar.”
“We’re very excited to be doing another Adam Szymkowicz play,” company member Jon Furr said. “’Clown Bar’ was one of our most popular shows — the only one where we added extra dates.”
“Marian” was commissioned by New York City’s Flux Theatre Ensemble, who put the script on stage in January, 2017.
Spirit Gum board member Janice Lovett, an actor who also taught the third-grade drama program at Summit School for 12 years, is trying her hand at directing this production.
“It is a different take on the Robin Hood story that we all know,” Lovett said. “The themes have to do with being brave enough to declare who you love. And it’s gender-bending, including a non-binary character. We have some baddies, and we have goodies, and fight scenes and love scenes.”
Furr referenced one of the play publisher’s taglines.
“The play is said to be ‘gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing,’ which is a perfect way to describe it,” he said. “All the heroes are played by women and all the villains are men.”
In the altered world of Sherwood Forest, Britt Stone plays Marian/Robin, and Mark Tyler Joy is Marian/Robin’s closest acquaintance, Little John.
“My role is obviously different from everybody’s else’s,” Stone said. “Despite the fact that I am the nucleus, I am the ‘straight man.’ In terms of comedy, my comedy here is reacting to all the tomfoolery and the chaos around me — which has been interesting, since my usual comedy is quite different from that.”
According to Stone, love and loving are significant parts of the play’s theme
“My character is able to fall in love with somebody who I know may never truly love me back,” she said.
“It’s not the typical ‘oh, damsel in distress’ kind of love. To me, this is about all of the types of love you can have for a human being, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic. You can love someone just as deeply as a friend and a comrade. One of the wonderful parts of my character is thinking about the entirety of what it means to love.”
Joy has enjoyed the discovery process of Little John’s character, who, he said, “is unapologetically happy. He loves life; he’s always along for the adventure. He’s in love with life itself.”
Little John “is not a smart man in certain ways, but when it comes to people and other people’s emotions, he’s very in touch with and interacts well with people. He seems like just a pure, good guy,” Joy said. “He’s been given this opportunity to be something bigger than he thought he could be.”
Stone and Joy have discussed the relationship between Marian and John, as, in the world of the play, Little John is the only character who has already established a relationship with her prior to the play’s beginning. The Robin/Marian character is more intense, so Little John helps to brighten the mood and keep things simple.
The large cast includes Carrie Barton, Alex Boese, Jeremy Engel, Jon Furr, Layla Grace, Sarah Jenkins, Skip Long, Haley Motsinger, Sandy Scott, Linda Shillito, Alexander Stone and Tabitha Stilwell Wilkins. Elizabeth Rief is the stage manager.
Costumes, which are being gathered and assembled by company and cast member Sarah Jenkins, also have to be right for 14 people, some of whom wear more than one.
“These are not just beautiful items, but flexible and in some cases, have to work for some very quick changes,” Stone said.
One aspect of the play that’s getting special attention is the numerous sword fights, from one-on-one to full-cast situations.
The cast has held multiple five-hour fight training rehearsals, directed by Ian Winek, fight choreographer, and fight captain Michael Kamtman.
Director Lovett noted that “if you don’t do fight scenes right, it can be very dangerous for the people around you. You really have to have all the concentration with the person you’re fighting, and be aware of where others might be on the stage at the same time.”
The intense training “has been an inadvertent way of bonding for all of us in the cast,” Stone said.