Robin Hood recycled, but cleverly

Danisha Crosby - Joe Isenberg in Round House Theatre’s production of "Young Robin Hood."

Heroes our culture can’t stop recycling: James Bond. Batman. And, though you may not have thought about this one unless you’ve visited Bethesda’s Round House Theatre for a new origin story of another legend, Robin Hood.

Errol Flynn, Sean Connery, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Mel Brooks, Sinatra’s Rat Pack, the fox in the animated Disney movie — these and many more have taken a stab at the fable of the noble forest archer who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. The twist in Jon Klein’s new play is that Robin’s a teen and the story is geared to family theaters. That’s a growth niche, and Klein’s “Young Robin Hood” stands a good chance of becoming a staple.

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Klein makes the expected updates — you don’t have to be a white male to get a good role in this show — and gives young Robin an early adventure against Nottingham’s flamboyantly villainous sheriff. Predictable as the new spin is, “Young Robin Hood” swashbuckles along with the brisk, nearly mindless efficiency of a popcorn picture. Klein’s scripts have been known to hit the mysterious sweet spot for regional theaters (“T Bone N Weasel” and “Betty the Yeti” are among his widely produced credits), and “Young Robin Hood” is nothing if not playable.

And play they do at Round House. Director Derek Goldman’s production turns Sherwood Forest into a big playground: A giant tree, perfect for climbing or swinging toward on a rope, occupies the center of Misha Kachman’s set. A sleek network of ramps, bridges and catwalks makes the environment ripe for chasing and fighting.

Which is how the show begins, with Joe Isenberg’s feisty teenage Robin and Davis Chandler Hasty’s sneaky Philip (son of the crooked sheriff) clacking wooden staffs in a lively bit of combat. The action scenes are underscored with excellent suspense by composer and sound designer Matthew M. Nielson; during a long, complicated river battle, Nielson combines dramatic music and watery sound effects with Hollywood-caliber skill.

Equally imaginative is the figure of Diana, young Marian’s falcon, played by Emma Jaster in a tasteful brown and blue leotard that functions like camouflage. (The costumes, featuring lots of boots and belts for the humans, are by Ivania Stack.) The disguise is handy because Jaster doubles as the Spirit of Sherwood Forest — everything from animals to the elements fire and water. Jaster is a splendid mover, and her fluid, chameleonic performance lends a touch of magic to the fable.

That counters the clichés of Klein’s plot and characters. Goldman casts appealing actors who help the old tropes go down easily, with the spotlight fixed most brightly on Mitchell Hebert’s stylishly evil sheriff. Stack garbs the character in spurs and furs; Hebert takes the cue and does the suave, heartless Bad Guy thing extremely well.

Craig Wallace radiates integrity as William Fitzooth, the man who has raised Robin. Plucky work is done by Laura C. Harris as the teenage Marian and Allie Villarreal as Joan (Klein’s version of Little John); graceful turns in grown-up roles are supplied by Kimberly Schraf and Jeff Allin. It’s a solid ensemble, and except for narrative lulls during the inevitable capture-escape-triumph sequence, the show is entertainingly done. Place your empty popcorn boxes in the proper receptacles on the way out.

Young Robin Hood

by Jon Klein. Directed by Derek Goldman. Lights, Kenton Yeager. With JJ Kaczynski and Sean Silvia. About two hours. Through Dec. 30 at Round House Theatre Bethesda, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda. Call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.

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