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A band of merry men (and women)
Fifth Row Center weaves an outdoor tale of Robin Hoods adventures
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James Doran stars as Robin Hood in Fifth Row Center's production of "The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood." - photo by Tom Reed

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Melissa Thomas talks about "The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood," which she directed for Fifth Row Center.

The Village Lawn at Sterling on the Lake in Flowery Branch will be transformed Friday and Saturday into an outdoor theater and festival grounds for "The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood."

Fifth Row Center, a South Hall-based community theater, is producing the drama, a retelling of the familiar story of Robin and his "Merry Men" tramping through Sherwood Forest in Medieval England, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.

But this version doesn't take itself too seriously.

The play "is a tongue-in-cheek twist on the old classic," said director Melissa Thomas. "Think of it as what might happen if Monty Python came to Sherwood Forest."

She said the audience "will be participating with a lot of boo-hiss, kind of like the old-fashioned melodrama."

The night doesn't just belong to thespian lovers either.

The play starts at 7:30 each night, but the "doors" open at 6 p.m. to what organizers describe as a "Mini-Renaissance Festival," with food and activities that include juggling, fencing and face painting.

Also, King Richard will knight people and pose for pictures.

The Gwinnett Horn Quartet is scheduled to perform Friday and a "dance-along" will be featured on Saturday.

Tickets to the play cost $5 apiece (free for children 3 and younger), and festival admission is free. Activities are either free or cost up to $10.

A rain date is set for Sunday.

James Doran, who plays Robin Hood, said this production is one of the most exciting he has experienced so far.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "I like how it's outdoors. I think that will be great. It's a great family production."

As for the bow-and-arrow slinging main character, he is portrayed in a familiar way - wanting to help his oppressed countrymen, defending them against the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham.

Robin Hood is "very pompous and confident," Doran said. "He gets called arrogant throughout the play a lot. He doesn't get rattled very easily. As long as he's the center of attention, he's on cloud nine and very confident in himself.

He also gets flustered when he's upstaged.

Still, "he's got a good heart," said Doran, who is studying theater at the University of Georgia. "He's still a man of the people and for the people. He's still the good guy."

Thomas described Robin Hood "as bit of a nerd" and the Merry Men aren't very bright.

"The only one that's got any intelligence is a little boy who is trying to become a Merry Man and Robin won't let him," she said. "He knows how to fence, joust, do kung fu, and the Merry Men just use spoons for the weapons."

In a modern and farcical turn of the story, the Sheriff of Nottingham challenges Robin to a bowling tournament based on his knowledge of Robin's archery skills.

"Robin has to learn very quickly how to bowl," Thomas said.

Ciro Manzari portrays Friar Tuck, who "adds balance" to the group.

"He's not the typical drunkard," he said. "The Merry Men are kind of merry and Robin is so full of himself. Friar Tuck kinda keeps things in perspective for them."

Manzari, a native New Yorker who performed in plays between eighth and 10th grades, got bitten by the acting bug again by playing several roles in "A Christmas Carol" for Lawrenceville Community Theatre.

"I'm all excited about community theater and trying to help promote it," he said.

"Robin Hood" is Fifth Row Center's fourth production since it was founded in January by actress/drama coach Donna Chalmers, a Flowery Branch resident since last summer.

"We started with a show that we had done at Lawrenceville Community Theatre," she said of the acting group she founded in 2005. "We were almost sold out, which right away told us that this area really needs some more performing arts."

Thomas, who once worked in Los Angeles as an actress in commercials and live theater, now lives in Flowery Branch and is working as a massage therapist.

"I'd say half our cast is from the Flowery Branch area and the other half are people Donna knows from (Gwinnett County)," she said.

Chalmers is hoping to build on the success of "Robin Hood" and future plays. Auditions are set Aug. 21 for "Girl in the Rain," a murder mystery with performances tentatively set to begin Oct. 23.

The theater is planning a production of "Little Women" in February around the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday on Feb. 12.

Eventually, the group would like to settle in a permanent location, Chalmers said.

Thomas shares that vision.

"You can't drive down to Atlanta all the time," she said. "... We may not be Broadway actors, but we've got a lot of talent in the area. I think (the theater) is going to be a nice addition to Flowery Branch."

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