While myths about a hero called Robin Hood date back to the 14th century, never has there been a tale about the good-intentioned thief like the one opening Wednesday at Round House Theatre.
Written by Jon Klein and directed by Derek Goldman, “Young Robin Hood” is a coming of age story exploring the world of teenage Robin Hood.
“It takes all of the characters we know and love and puts them in Robin Hood’s life when he’s 16,” says actress Laura C. Harris. “Familiar characters and some familiar situations [are] kind of re-imagined through a teenager’s perspective.”
This fresh take on a classic tale finds our hero (played by Joe Isenberg) distraught after his father is falsely accused of a crime and imprisoned. Robin is forced to make tough decisions as he plots to rescue his father, while simultaneously dealing with a strained friendship and a budding new romance with the Sheriff’s daughter, Marian (Harris).
“It has to do with friendship and loyalty and coming of age,” says Klein.
Klein wrote the play about five years ago and showed it to several different theaters before Round House picked it up for its world premiere.
Klein has written a number of other adaptations for young audiences including “Bunnicula,” which was produced at Imagination Stage twice, and two adaptations based on the “Hardy Boys” book series, produced in Seattle.
Director Goldman also has worked with young audience adaptations in the past, but says it was his own young audience at home that was behind his decision to direct “Young Robin Hood.”
“I was tending to do a lot of plays about genocide or pedophilia where my kids can’t even see the rehearsals,” says Goldman who has two sons, ages 9 and 12. “The [plays] have been incredibly rewarding but they’ve been very, very adult in their content.”
Klein says he is drawn to producing shows for younger audiences because of their reaction to theater.
“Young audiences are the least restrained and most honest in their response,” says Klein.
Klein says he thought an adaptation of the Robin Hood story would work well with “tween” audiences because many of the themes are in line with the young adult experience.
“I started thinking about Robin Hood as a teenager because I felt like attitudes expressed in that story are of young people who are starting to question authority,” says Klein.
“It’s less about rich and the poor,” adds Isenberg. “What’s addressed, and what I think is an interesting take, is that the law isn’t always right ... just because it’s the structure and the rule doesn’t mean it’s always right.”
While the core messages in the play are aimed at audiences of children and pre-teens, Klein says there is something for everyone in “Young Robin Hood.”
“Obviously this show has to work on different levels for different ages,” says Klein. “The younger ones are going to be interested in the visuals, teenagers are going to be interested in the romance and friendship, [and] older people are going to be interested in the politics of the show — ethics, authority and what exactly is the best way to conduct political rule.”
Klein has made other choices about his characters in order to appeal to his younger audience. Marian, who is often depicted as a passive female character in Robin Hood adaptations, is instead an independent young woman.
“The costume designer has Marian in pants which is huge,” says Harris. “That in a nutshell can explain the difference between [this] Marian and traditional Marian. She’s not content just being a princess ... she wants to be intellectually challenged.”
With countless versions and variations on the Robin Hood story, Klein says it’s never told the same way twice, and that’s how he and his cast intend to keep it.
“I imagine that we’re going to get some kids who go, ‘Oh, that’s new, I’ve never seen that before,’ and others who say, ‘Yeah, so I’ve seen that before, what’s the big deal?’” says Harris. “And both of those are really exciting.”