In the adventures of Robin Hood, it is the capricious archer who is the center of all legends, and around him swirl the Merry Men (Little John and Will Scarlett) and the evil of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham and Maid Marian, whom Robin loves.
There is a way to look at this legendary story, however, through the eyes of a woman, and you can find a story with enough twists and turns to capture and hold your imagination.
Thatâ€™s the case with "A Lady in Waiting," the production being staged by Theatre RED which opened Thursday night at the Soulstice Theatre and runs through Aug. 23. The play is an adaptation of the traditional story by local playwright Liz Shipe.
The story opens with Robin Hood (Zach Thomas Woods) at the edge of his beheading for crimes of murder and thievery. But before the axe can fall, we are moved in flashback to the time when this story began.
It is told by Aria, the handmaiden to Maid Marian (played by Shipe), and it is a bravura performance by Kelly Doherty, who with great good humor and grace takes us from the combativeness of her Scottish lady to the gathering of the Merry Men to the first tentative steps toward love between Robin and Marian in Sherwood Forest.
Doherty has a special ability to be funny, with a comedic timing that is enviable, and then to become stern in moments of high drama. She is a joy to behold on stage and stands out in a staging that features a number of good performances.
Jake Lesh plays the callow and treacherous Prince John with a precious air capturing all that is trouble in Nottingham. Meanwhile, Woods gives us a Robin Hood who is less crusading philanthropist and more cherubic and troubled warrior, conflicted about his place in the world.
Robin and his men, however, all take a back seat to the trials and travails of the two women, who are determined to flee to the Holy Land to rescue King Richard from prison. Their quest is the heart and soul of this story.
Shipeâ€™s play is a wonderful nifty idea and sparkles early on with an earnest telling of a familiar story that provides a glimpse into the lives of characters we have heard of but donâ€™t know much about.
She has a lovely way with the language, mixing the stilted phrasing of medieval English with a more informal style best used to provide some of the abundant humor in the first act. The smiles from the audience at the intermission were eloquent testimony to the joyful bounce of what they had seen so far.
But the second act became a tortuous journey through what were surprising developments, along with the long-winded speeches needed to explain what was happening. We had mistaken identities, mistaken motives, mistaken couplings, mistaken swordplay and mistaken deaths.
It all became a little too much.
What happened, I think, was that a play, telling an interesting and fun tale, suddenly began to take itself too seriously. As character after character died, they all had long and maudlin speeches about how sorry they were or how much they loved Robin or how anxious they were to join dead relatives.
Here we were jaunting along, enjoying the repartee, and suddenly we were asked to almost weep over the Hallmark Hall of Fame moments that landed like a giant anchor on the pace of the play.
Director Christopher Elst is an experienced hand, and he might well have taken Shipe aside and suggested that some judicious cutting of the script might be appropriate. With a 15-minute intermission, the play came in at two and a half hours. With songs that did nothing to move the story and the never-ending throes of lingering death, I kept waiting for the signal to bring the lights up and send us home.
This play has a future life, Iâ€™m sure, but Shipe needs to find a good dramaturg who can help keep the pedal to the floor and take her foot off the brake.
Mr. Begel is spot on when describing Kelly Dohertys performance. I can imagine her character played by a number of other individuals, but Dohertys performance brings something that would be quite good and funny to amazing and hilarious. And I do mean hilarious. At times the humor was very witty eliciting chuckles from the audience, and at other times the cast commanded us to laugh at times almost uncontrollably. More than once I had a tear in my eye because the humor was so good. Fortunately for me, the people around me were doing the same.
Where however, I take issue with this review is in Mr. Begels assessment of the second half. The notion that the play began to take itself too seriously couldnt be further from the truth, and, in my opinion edges on insulting to the playwright. It certainly does take a turn in tone, however in paying attention to the plot that was to be expected. We were asked to weep at times, and more than a few people in my section rose to that. The juxtaposition between the almost jovial first half and the serious and emotional (but still very witty and funny) second half was expertly executed by everyone on stage. The whole cast deserves applause for being able to make the switch so convincing authentic.
In hindsight, perhaps a speech or two could have been condensed slightly, but for Mr. Begel to say it was tortuous, and to suggest that playwright should have been taken aside is puzzling, as everyone that I spoke with after the show couldnt sing enough praise, no one mentioned that so-and-so should have cut a sentence out. And further on waiting to be sent home more than a few people stayed though the impromptu meet-and-greet with the cast and staff after the show. I find it hard to believe anyone was rushing to leave.
The play was very well written, very well executed, delivered the right amount of laughter and emotion throughout. My suggestion would be for Mr. Begel to see it again in a week and leave his critic hat at home.
1 comment about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Dave Begel
Published July 26, 2016
Being an Uber driver in Milwaukee is a one-of-a-kind experience that lets Dave Begel meet some of the most interesting people, residents as well as visitors to the city. Find out where Begel took guests in the latest installment of Tales of the Road.
Published July 21, 2016
So the nightmare is true and Donald Trump actually may be president. The whole thing has made Dave Begel wonder about prominent conservatives in Wisconsin and whether they will support Trump. It turns out that they are split on the nomination.
Published July 19, 2016
Summer theater in Wisconsin usually means Spring Green or Door County. But there are several summer productions that look interesting and that range from the classical to the experimental, both indoors and under the stars of Milwaukee.
Published July 14, 2016
People say that America is more divided now than ever, but it was less than a lifetime ago when this country was torn apart by the quest for civil rights and the drive to end the war in Vietnam. Those times were full of violent demonstrations.
Published July 12, 2016
The Milwaukee Rep has announced a unique training program for teenage actors in the city, as part of the company's commitment to stimulating dialogue and creating engagement opportunities revolving around social issues facing the city.
Published July 8, 2016
They looked just like any other happy couple coming out of Summerfest when I picked them up at the staging area. But once they got into the car, the tension was obvious, and eventually, it boiled over.
Published July 5, 2016
All of the arts enable us to see things, especially in ourselves, we might otherwise miss. I have an idea, and it's something that could help brand Milwaukee better than any flag, slogan or video. Let's make Milwaukee the epicenter of the world for public art.
Published June 30, 2016
Now that the OSPP has exploded in mid-air like the Big Bang fireworks, the question is where do we go from here? The plan, which many saw as the right wing continuing to try and chip away at MPS, didn't have much of a chance of working.
Published June 30, 2016
Being an Uber driver in Milwaukee is a one-of-a-kind experience that lets Dave Begel meet some interesting people, residents and visitors to the city. Everybody has a story, and Tales of the Road will highlight some of those stories.
Published June 29, 2016
The city has agreed to cut a check for $968,331.75 after losing its lawsuit at trial and again in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals after the initial verdict. The amount covers both the damage award and attorney fees.