Bill Bolz in Broom Street Theater's <i>Nottingham!</i>
What's a folk-hero vigilante to do when he finds himself on the right side of the law? The same thing an audience does when they find themselves in the middle of a play: Go with it.
Penned by playwright Doug Reed, known for 2011's timely The Lamentable Tragedie of Scott Walker, the interactive Broom Street Theater production Nottingham! (through Aug. 30) permanently erases the fourth wall between actors and audience. The result is a tale of Robin Hood meets House of Cards, with the humor of Monty Python and Mel Brooks.
Robin Hood, once vanquished by the evil Prince John, returns to Nottingham as King Richard the Lionheart returns to the throne. Robin is knighted and seated at the king's right hand as the band of Merry Men become the law they once fought against. But thuggishness and unjustly high taxes continue despite the transition of power. Robin carries out Richard's wishes against his better judgment as he's sucked into the political machinery. The prince of thieves' newfound status creates a moral dilemma as he strives to keep up appearances and maintain the reputation of his zealous lady, Maid Marian.
Friends become enemies, enemies become friends, derring-do becomes derring-don't. And audience members become actors. As center stage rotates around the theater and into the middle of it, the willing may end up with a minor role in the play: perhaps a peasant, an innkeeper, a door or the kinetic energy that carries an arrow. Excellent attention to lighting keeps the spotlight where it should be.
Nottingham! keeps the audience on its toes both literally and figuratively. Each member of the audience, which stands for the duration of the play, gets a front-row view at some point. However, everyone also gets the opportunity to stand behind the tall guy or to be that tall guy. A 70-minute production may weary both the weak of leg and youths with meager attention spans. A few bucket-esque "stumps" are available for those who must sit.
The well-rounded volunteer cast is adept at riffing on audience members' unique interpretations of ad hoc interactive roles. A remarkable few of the ample jokes in Nottingham! fall flat. Both minor and titular characters have equal footing in the storyline. Exquisitely nefarious villains contrast with a minstrel that comically over-narrates. Front-heavy on musical numbers, one standout number is the catchy sing-along "Don't Gouge Out My Eyes Due to My Inability to Pay Taxes."
Interestingly, the once politically motivated playwright took the character-driven road out of Sherwood Forest when the class warfare route was just as accessible. Humorous Saxon-versus-Norman undertones and healthy doses of French bashing are the most contentious nods to politics in the play. An unpredictable conclusion adds to the unconventionality of the charming production, but is so cute that it generally erases the moral of the story. By this point, the audience is unlikely to ponder it further as the stand-athon ends and seats are sought elsewhere.