Dallas — In the current social and political climate in America, it’s important for us ladies to stay vigilant, keep the powers that be honest, and stand up for our rights when we’re being denied them.
But here’s the thing: my daughters don’t know that, and I’m not going to tell them. My girls (9 and 3) have no idea that the man might try to keep them down. They don’t hear anyone telling them they “run like a girl.” My girls truly live in post-feminist America. “Girl power” doesn’t mean much to them because they aren’t aware that girls can’t do anything that boys can do.
Oh, they will, in time. They will see sexism present itself plenty of times. But I’m not here to be the ones to wake them up to that reality. I’m here to make sure it’s shocking when it happens, something out of the norm.
This is why I get a little tired of “girl power” tropes. My daughters have been born into privilege that lets them assume they can do anything, simply by being who they are. You know, like boys have. I get more excited when my girls see women doing the damn thing, rather than being told they can after watching a boy do it.
I ruminated on this quite a bit Sunday afternoon during the 50-minute matinee performance of Fun House Theatre and Film’s play by prolific playwright and director Jeff Swearingen. Robin Hood and His Merry Women is the brainchild of Swearingen (and was one of his first original script for Fun House), a self-proclaimed “rallying cry” for girls. And it totally is. It’s filled with all the girl-power excitement that makes me happy. I love seeing girls on stage with significant roles, fighting the patriarchy, and being powerful.
It’s a smart script, to be clear, and Swearingen has a way with getting kids to a good stage presence. Honestly, if a play featuring children is audible I consider it a success. This is far more that just that. It’s part of Fun House’s “Dallas Children’s Theater Academy,” which is like a residency. Fun House also offers theater classes held in DCT. The play, which includes an all-youth cast, is performed in DCT’s studio theater.
The story is a unique take on the tale we all know: Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham are on the hunt to capture Robin Hood, but things get a little complicated when Robin’s lady friend, Maid Marion, and the “Merry Men” are taken prisoner. Adding to the complication, the infantile Prince has also snagged all the men of the village, leaving their wives with no choice but to join up with Robin and Little John to get their husbands back.
Robin Hood isn’t too keen on this plan, and he reluctantly lets them in on the gig, facing depleted resources and no other means of stopping the prince from taking money from the poor so that he can heroically distribute it to the rich. But those on the team are getting tired of the way he runs things. A deadpan narrator, played by Ilyena Metzger breaks up the action with exasperated commentary on Robin Hood and men in general.
A true highlight of the play is Kennedy Waterman, who plays an elderly village women turned wannabe narrator. Of the whole lot, she’s one to watch. Her comedic timing was just right and I looked forward to any time she was on stage.
The kids play the jokes cleverly for the most part. There are a few actors that struggled to keep a straight face from time to time, but the staging kept the action moving and they all had a good sense of developing their characters and letting them change.
It’s really just the story itself that didn’t work for me. Hair-twirling, nail-checking village women who can’t fight are tired tropes. As a #girlmom, I much prefer my kids to see movies and plays where there’s no commentary on the fact that girls can do anything, I just want them to see that they can without a man there to question it. What about Robin Hood just played by a girl, maybe?
However, that’s a good line in the sand. Maybe the play doesn’t pass The Bechdel test, but my daughters weren’t bothered by the things that made me a little prickly. Caroline (9) loved Waterman’s portrayal as the old woman, and loved the fight scenes with the women. They were funny and well-acted and that translated to her. When I asked her why she liked it she said, “It was funny.” And though there are the village women who play into the “dumb girl” stereotype, there is also violent, bloodthirsty village woman who relishes taking prisoners and gutting them “from ear to ear.” I laughed out loud as she demonstrated it on the dummy to the horror of Little John.
If you’re considering bringing a younger child, leave them at home. My 3-year-old’s running commentary during the play included such questions and insights as:
- Where are we?
- I’m going to take my shoes off now.
- Is this Robin Hood?
- Is this TV?
- Why is it green?
- My foot hurts.
- I thought we were going to see Robin Hood (as we were leaving)
Fun House continues to challenge the way kids do theater, and for that it’s a success. New plays and opportunities for children are always exciting. Even if the source material isn’t a home run, the intention certainly is.