The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, September 16, 2005, Arts

The Evidence of Silence Broken

Hyde Park Theatre, through Sept. 24

Running Time: 1 hr, 5 min

The stage is painted with graffiti, that colorful, curvy, cartoonish kind that you've often seen if you've ever walked or driven under bridges, along railroad tracks, or through the more economically depressed parts of your city or town. The kind that you imagine young black men spraypainting in the dead of night while pulling on lager or smoking crack. That sounds like a racist statement because it is, and when this latest Hyde Park Theatre production begins, you see that stereotype enter in the person of Zell Miller III, a young black man carrying a boombox blaring hip-hop music, a look on his face that says, "Fuck with me, and I'll put a cap in your ass."

Not that I want this to get personal, but I listen to a lot of sports radio, and I'm often amused and more than a little consternated by the talking mouths when they address racism. The line on sports radio is that you can't assume that anyone is racist, and while I agree with that idea in theory, it's a little different in practice. We live in a racist, sexist, elitist society. Denying that in any way is denying what we're all bombarded with every moment of every day. Attempting to silence those who wish to address racism – or any other entrenched -ism – only exacerbates the problem. If anything is ever going to be done about racism, or sexism, or elitism, the only way to begin to do so is to break the silence. And keep breaking it.

That's what Zell Miller III does. If you're not familiar with Miller, he's much more than a young, angry black man, although he is that. Many of the pieces he performs in this impressive one-person show are exactly what you might expect from a young black man carrying a boombox: loud, fast, rhythmic anthems that embody an anger as wide and long and deep as the history of blacks in America. Miller is a poet, a spoken-word performer. Sometimes he talks so fast and moves so much in that angular, sharp way that hip-hop artists often do, it's difficult to follow what he's saying, but that seems to be the point. Miller is sending a message, and the message often consists of embodying a feeling. But he isn't all about anger. He is wise beyond his years, and along with the angry anthems, he tells stories about lessons learned from his mother, his father, his child. At one point he tells an enthralling story about two people sitting in a restaurant and all the unspoken words that hover in space between them. It's one of the most curiously romantic tales I've ever heard told in a theatre – beautiful and sad and quietly, tremendously powerful.

I wish I had more room to write about this production. Ken Webster is credited as the director, and Lindsay McCay and Angie Kreuser are credited as the stage manager and sound operator, respectively, and while the latter accompany him expertly with numerous sound and light cues, the show and all it embodies seems to flow straight from Miller. Some people are like open books, their inner beings printed on their faces like type on a page. Miller is that kind of person. He doesn't just wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears his heart, his mind, and his very soul on it. He projects the essence of himself outward into the void, seemingly with no expectation of return. For Miller, the act of giving is all the return he appears to need.

Turn his pages. You won't want to put him down.

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