Kissing the Goodbye
Dying and the worth of individual lives are treated with a refreshing and uplifting respect in Zell Miller III's family drama 'Kissing the Goodbye'
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., March 31, 2006
Kissing the Goodbye
State Theatre, March 25
Running Time: 1 hr
Gran-Gran lives in an old peach-colored clapboard house on a farm run by her brother Franklin. She makes the best jelly cake and fried chicken in the county, and you can ask anybody, because she's won the fried chicken contest quite a few years in a row now. She raised Katherine, her Kitty-Kat, from the time Kat was a baby, and she did the same for Buster, whom she found on her doorstep. Her Kitty-Kat moved away and has her own babies now, a couple of classes full of kindergartners, but Buster still lives close by, and it's a good thing, too, because Gran-Gran, though still feisty and busy seeing visitors and dispensing sweet and salty wisdom from her four-poster bed, is dying.
Few subjects are closer to our fragile human lives than the subject of death, but so often nowadays, in even the most sophisticated of entertainments, death is treated as a game, individual human lives as unimportant and disposable. So it's refreshing and uplifting to see this Zell Miller III family production presented by ProArts Collective. Miller is best known around Austin as an actor and spoken-word performer, but here he serves as playwright and director, so while you can't see him in the show, his work is still present and palpable in many different ways.
While Miller's story centers on Gran-Gran and her passing, to a great extent the show is about stories and storytelling as a tool for entertaining and learning and also about the play that storytelling can entail. Gran-Gran is well-known, not just as a cook but as a storyteller, and Miller weaves three children's stories into his larger story about Gran-Gran. The first is about Basuro the Black Beetle, who saves a town from the terror of a police state; the second concerns a rather original take on the Three Little Pigs; and the third is about a girl named Tonya and her desire to grow roses in the ghetto. Each of these stories, along with a number of children's songs and games utilized throughout, give Miller's ensemble of 10 actors multiple opportunities to stretch themselves by playing children, grownups, and animals. Miller has structured his script so that narrative scenes with direct audience address are interwoven with realistic, multiple-character scenes. Consistently in the narrative portions he has his actors use captivating, dancelike gestures to complement his rhythmic, poetic text, and these smooth and beautiful gestural portraits often creep into the more realistic scenes as well. So, in addition to allowing his actors ample opportunities to play, he also allows them ample opportunities to dance, at least in a way, so the production has a wonderful feeling of wholeness and symmetry. And the end of the play, which centers on an actual dance, offers a most lovely, peaceful, and joyous passing.
Gran-Gran's mother used to say, "Bless the hellos and kiss the goodbyes." It's a sweet thought in a production as sweet as the thought itself.