Williamstown Theatre Festival's free performance of 'Robin Hood' allows the audience to chill out on blankets right in front of the stage under the stars.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of The Mom Review, a summer-long series of reviews of family-friendly theater, dance, art exhibits, etc., by iBerkshires Community Editor Rebecca Dravis and her 8-year-old daughter, Noelle, who hope to give you some ideas for summer family fun.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williamstown Theatre Festival is not necessarily known to be as community-minded as some of the year-round theater companies in the Berkshires. But they do stage a piece of free theater every year, and this year's offering was "Robin Hood," performed in the Poker Flats area of Williams College. On a lovely and cool opening night, Noelle and I went to see the play.
I'm not a theater critic, and this column is not meant to be a theater review. It is meant to give families information on whether particular plays would interest their children. However, with this play, I'm finding it difficult to separate the two.
I did not enjoy this play. Noelle didn't, either. It had nothing to do with WTF's capabilities or the atmosphere (as muddy as it was) of theater under the stars. We saw "The Comedy of Errors" there in 2011 and thought it was hysterical and "Dracula" there last year and found it chillingly entertaining. The problem with "Robin Hood" was that it didn't know if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama. Obviously "The Comedy of Errors" is a comedy and "Dracula" is a drama, but "Robin Hood" really could go either way. And if it had gone one way or the other, we might have enjoyed it more.
Instead, it started out with some very serious actors with some very serious accents. Noelle had trouble understanding the beginning, and to be honest, I did, too. I never think it's a good idea for emerging performers to try accents, especially in outdoor theater, where you never know what noise is going to interfere with the extra listening required to decipher the language. I understand from WTF's perspective, this is the perfect place for them to hone their accent skills, but it just didn't work out for me this night.
But as the play went on, it seemed to lighten up, become more comedic, even as the actors' accents started to slip until Sherwood Forest sounded like an international melting pot. We liked the second half more than the first because all of a sudden, we were watching something much funnier and more entertaining. And who doesn't love to laugh?
Also confusing to both of us was the use of one actor for two roles, a convention used several times in this play. The subtle transformation born from the necessity of a fast-paced outdoor play did not separate the characters with enough distinction for Noelle (and me, too) to keep a grip on who was who in the beginning. (And once I realized this was happening, I would have sworn the bishop and the friar were the same actor.) It became even more confusing when suddenly near the end some costume changes happened right in front of us on stage. Maybe the director thought that was funny? It might have been, if it happened throughout the play and not just near the end.
So from one mom to another, think twice about taking younger children to this play, for all the reasons above plus that it doesn't start until 7:30 p.m., doesn't end until after 9:30 p.m. and is staged in a wet and muddy field with only two portable toilets on site. Older kids - tweens and teens - might enjoy it. And maybe after opening night they realized what worked and what didn't and tweaked it some. Good theater companies do that, and WTF is a good theater company.
Of course, it's free, so you really have nothing to lose, and you can always leave during intermission.
Now for Noelle: I liked the music and sword fighting in this play. Some of it was funny. I don't think I want to see it again, though.
"Robin Hood" continues July 18, 19, 22, 23, 24 and 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Poker Flats Field on the Williams College campus. For more information, click here.
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