Saturday, August 8, 2009

ROBIN HOOD INC.

A bit of a riff on "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court", ROBIN HOOD INC. (1928), by Frederick H. Martens and Allan Benedict — as well as cover art by Donn Crane — takes the story of the Merry Men and throws in a little Chicago-style organizing.

It starts off simply enough: the evil Sheriff of Nottingham is surprised in Sherwood Forest by Robin's gang. Inexplicably, Robin lets him go (!) just before Friar Tuck comes in with Ben Booster.

Now Ben here is a curious sort. He's not really described all that well in the script, but I get the impression that he's supposed to be in a suit and bowler hat, even though how he would have gotten into this play is a mystery better left unsolved.

Nevertheless, Ben has come to Robin with an idea: incorporate! That way, the Merry Men dont have to depend on just waiting for rich travelers to come through Sherwood Forest; they can look into such profit-minded activities as bookkeeping and road paving:

BEN. Fellow shareholders, the slogan of Robin Hood Incorporated is "bigger purses and better cuts!" Instead of a corporation of robbers operating for profit, we are a benevolent society acting under Section 43 to deprive malefactors of great wealth of unearned increment... for charitable purposes.

Problem is, they need start-up capital, which sorta bums everyone out until Ben comes up with the scheme of having Robin marry a rich heiress.

But the problem there is that Robin's heart is already promised to a certain Maid Mariam.

Well, no matter, as far as Ben is concerned. There are four very good candidates (none of which are Mariam) for the position of Robin's Wife, so all he has to do is choose one. Robin considers this for a moment, then says, "Sorry, they're all equally fascinating. I'll have to let my friends decide." — which is great, except that when one his friends chooses one of the fair ladies, the other three beat the crap out of him. So Robin tries Stalling Plan B: whoever brings the largest dowry will get his hand, which sets off the four in a mad dash to get their purses... except that Ben has rigged the contest by providing one of the ladies with a bag stuffed with cash. The crossbow marriage is about to begin when Robin suddenly stops everything with a final request:

ROBIN. I am stepping out of my own life. The president of an important corporation cannot leg it about the greenwood cutting purses! In a few minutes Sherwood Forest will be but a name to me. I shall take up golf and manage my wife's estate if the estate survive the working capital it must raise! Yet before I die — I mean, marry — let me see one more gay and rowdy forest dance!

He's hoping to run off in all the rowdy gay-ness, but unfortunately the Sheriff of Nottingham stops by with his archers and arrests everyone.

They're all hauled off to Westminster, where the Sheriff accuses them in front of Prince John of being highwaymen and "woodland yeggs", but they counter that they're merely "honest businessmen pledged to a more equalized distribution of wealth throughout the kingdom".

P. JOHN. Do you deny that you live by robbery?

ROBIN. I would not call it that, your highness. Words are so relative.

FRIAR. Our articles of incorporation prove...

SCARLETT. That we are making a notable practical effort...

L. JOHN. To show folks the beauty of the old ethical law that...

ALL. It is better to give than to receive.

SHERIFF. Bats fly in their belfries, my leige!

FRIAR. Our attorney, as soon as we get in touch with him, shall sue you for libel.

The Sheriff decides this is all nonsense, and to make his point even further, he tells Friar Tuck to get ready for a wedding, that he's going to marry Maid Mariam right there in front of Robin. Needless to say, this doesnt go over well, and within a half page of dialogue, Tuck has cut through everyone's bonds and Robin has the Sheriff in a headlock, promising to detach that same head if anyone comes any closer. The rest of the Merry Men come in, overpower the guards, and the day is saved. Robin leads everyone off, but Mariam and Ben are somehow left behind — and as a result, find themselves held hostage. Prince John is about to lay claim to Mariam himself when...

... suddenly a tall, knightly figure appears from behind his throne, and it's none other than King Richard himself, returned from the Crusades and not at all pleased at what he's seen. Prince John tries to tell him that Robin and his band have all been found guilty of robbery, but Ben intervenes, stating that Robin "is a member of a corporation and hence not responsible individually for its activities". He adds that Robin is also the Earl of Huntingdon, driven into the forest by Prince John and the Sheriff, who wanted his lands.

Oops.

Well, Richard agrees to free Robin and his men, but Ben reminds everyone that Robin still has a fiduciary obligation to marry Lady Lotta, as agreed by RHInc's board of directors. Robin snaps:

I have one message for you all. I will wed no woman others have chosen for me, but the one I have chosen for myself. Not even my king shall tell me where I must love.

The king, surprisingly, agrees but reassures Lady Lotta as well as the other contenders that all shall have mates -- and then proceeds to pair everyone off. One hopes there were enough Maids of Arden to go around for the Archers of Sherwood, but if not... well, what the heck. As Richard says, "Long live Romance!"

RICHARD. I am an old fashioned romantic, twelfth century king, I am content to take my Merry England as I find it.

And to a stirring (and, given the genre, slightly bizarre) song:

Five centuries from now
Is quite far ahead
For no matter how
We'll all be dead
So we'll be ourselves
While knighthood's in flower
We'll keep our romance
While we have the power
We're sitting pretty
On top of our world
It's the only world we know
Then shall we borrow
One bit of sorrow
For a tomorrow?
Nay, not so!

We're sitting pretty
On top of our world
And this being so, somehow
We'll keep on sitting
No one will care
Five hundred years from now!

... we call it quits.

ROBIN HOOD INC comes from the same composer as IN OLD VIENNA, one of the earliest pieces discussed in this blog, and like that work it has the same anachronistic charm and humour. It's surprisingly (and refreshingly) polished, with a fun-filled score and, at points, a laugh-out-loud book. The characters are all, of course, about as two-dimensional as one can get, but that just adds to the enjoyment: Robin is so very, very good, while the Sheriff and Prince John are so very, very bad. Maid Mariam does little more than throw her hands up in alarm and put her lips into a quivering moué of fear when she's not singing eternal devotion to Robin (even when he's looking at being hanged). And in the midst of all this too too traditionalism, we have the Puck-like Ben, styled after every baggy-pants comedian whose schtick was built around the slippery "businessmen" of the day, sending the obvious plot into a couple of delirious trainwrecks. The satire about 20s-era graft and the legal tap-dancing over "incorporation" are sharply pointed, perhaps a bit too much so for a show designed for high schoolers. Nevertheless, it provides a level of comic maturity you dont see very often in these works. Just as VIENNA took great joy with its pot shots at advertising, ROBIN HOOD INC throws the absurdities of Big Quasi-Legal Business out there and shines them up for everyone to see.

No comments: