(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)
Robin Hood: An Elegy is nothing if not ambitious, timely, and vitally important in its message. It reminds us that not only do black lives matter, but so too do black voices and identities.
Local playwright Krystal Gonzales’ new work, playing through Aug. 22 at The Vortex, takes the myth of Robin Hood and mixes it freely with today’s all-too-tragic headlines to create a purposefully angry text that stares its audience directly in the face.
The show, produced by the Generic Ensemble Company and directed by kt shorb, comes with a trigger warning about “racial violence and graphic situations.” Although these scenes are not quite as viscerally graphic as the warning may imply, they are psychologically and emotionally affecting, recounting the history of state-sanctioned violence against black bodies in the United States.
The play’s narrative is, at times, a bit convoluted and difficult to follow, but there is no mistaking its hard-hitting aim, which is to confront the audience with the reality of what it is like to be a black person living in a country entrenched in a long history of racism. The audience itself is implicated in this history, particularly at a moment late in the play when we are made to recognize how few black bodies are actually present in Austin theater, on either side of the stage.
The work of the Love & Monsters Puppet Company is not to be overlooked, here, as their shadow puppetry helps to relate the most heinous examples of historical violence against black people in the United States. This creates a chilling beauty that is equal parts captivating and horrifying.
The multiracial ensemble is clearly very invested in the text and message of this play, and their energy, anger, and sadness ring true, even when the narrative and busy stage picture get a little lost. This is a new work, one that is up to the minute in its references to horrifying headlines, and will doubtless grow in strength and clarity as it is developed further.
Although it is not the most polished of productions, there is no denying the noble aims and earnest energy of Robin Hood: An Elegy. Hopefully, like the hero whose mythology it toys with, the play will continue to live on and seek justice in many new iterations in the future.
Robin Hood: An Elegy continues through Aug. 22. www.vortexrep.org