Loss Soul: If You Think Church Is Just an Hour on Sunday

Local Arts Reviews


Loss Soul: If You Think Church Is Just an Hour on Sunday

Hyde Park Theatre,

through December 18

Running Time: 1 hr, 10 min -- then the rest of your life

You're a black man walking down the sidewalk and a white man is walking toward you. Just as you're about to pass each other, your eyes meet, and you can see in them some kind of resistance, something intended to keep you at arm's length. His expression is stony, aloof, and the two of you pass without saying a word. Or you're a white woman waiting for an elevator. When it arrives, you see two black women engaged in lively conversation inside. Both glance at you, and you catch in their eyes something hard, a closed door. It is their only acknowledgement of you as you join them. They stop talking, and nothing else is said.

These encounters are small, minor brushes between people of different cultures, and perhaps as telling about modern manners as racial friction, but they are emblematic of the way we deal with race in this country: We don't talk. We feel the stabbing pain of wounds inflicted over four centuries of strife between blacks and whites but choose to suffer them in silence. And in silence they fester, perpetuating the pain.

Now, here, two men have come together on a stage to break the silence. One, Keith Antar Mason, is black. One, Andrew Long, is white. They begin by talking to us. In separate, alternating monologues, they describe conflicts between blacks and whites: in the feelings of a condemned prison inmate, in the memory of a witness to a vicious beating, in the actions of a government that wraps itself in issues of security while its people languish in poverty. It is vigorous talk, often blunt talk, bringing out of the silence and into the air all those jagged feelings -- the anger, the resentment, the fear -- many of them still purplish and raw, pulled fresh from that part of the spirit torn by injustice and bigotry and violence. Their talk is difficult to listen to, sometimes disturbing when first heard, especially when delivered with the conviction and fire that Mason and Long possess. But once we have heard it, a curious calm settles inside us. It is as if a wound in us has had the poison drawn out of it; now it has a chance to heal.

After the men speak to us, they invite us to talk with them. It isn't one of those discussions after the work that you encounter so often in the performing arts today; it is a part of the work -- perhaps the most vital part. What has come before has been a healing ritual, which we have witnessed. This is our first opportunity to act on that witnessing, to contribute to the healing of two races. Because certainly we are going out of that theatre into a world where we will encounter people with white skin and people with black skin, and what we do when we meet them will either help spread the healing or let the old poison of silence seep back into the wound.

Once, I thought that church was something that took place in a specific building for an hour on Sundays. Then I came to realize that confining church to one time and one place was missing the point. What was talked about during that hour on Sundays was how we live in the world, and it didn't matter a damn what message was delivered in the sanctuary if I didn't carry some part of that message out into the world with me. Sundays was merely a starting point for church; it kept going on all week and was with me wherever I was in the world.

Loss Soul begins with an hour-long performance by two passionate, accomplished artists in a theatre in Austin. But it will follow you out of that theatre and be with you long after that hour is over. This is church; it's about how we live in the world.

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