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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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Liz Shipe and Zachary Thomas Woods star as the legendary Maid Marian and Robin Hood in "A Lady in Waiting."
Liz Shipe and Zachary Thomas Woods star as the legendary Maid Marian and Robin Hood in "A Lady in Waiting."

The legend of Robin Hood gets a revamping by Theater RED

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.

That’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.

Shipe’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 don’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, I’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.

Talkbacks

einPinguin | Aug. 9, 2014 at 3:31 p.m. (report)

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.

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