Web Extra: B-Boy Bluez / Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower
In his 'B-Boy Bluez,' playing on a double bill with Maggie Gallant's 'Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower,' Zell Miller III creates whole worlds on stage and performs his heart out for whatever audience he gets
Reviewed by Hannah Kenah, Fri., Aug. 25, 2006
B-Boy Bluez/Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower
The Vortex, through Aug. 26
Running Time: 1 hr, 55 min
Zell Miller III is a remarkable performer and ought to be playing to huge audiences of hip-hop connoisseurs. He is not. At least not last Friday night, when he played to a handful of mostly white people at the Vortex. But count us lucky because this minor showing exposed us to one of Zell's truest rarest gifts: his ability to make any audience the right audience. He performed for us as if we were his ideal house. He turned out enough energy for a concert hall and had all 15 of us wrapped around his finger. He even got one audience member to throw down some Public Enemy lyrics with him. Not only a remarkable performer, Miller is a remarkable writer. He describes his middle school principal as "a talking bleeding carrot." Gina, the love of his second-grade life, was wearing "19,000 barrettes and looked like the opening ceremonies of the 1976 Olympics." On his parents, he remarks: "My mother's fingers are yellow at the tips. There are no manicures for women who work in manufacturing. I don't remember a time when my father had less than two jobs."
This is just a glimpse of the beauty of language and worlds that Zell Miller III presents in his B-Boy Bluez, playing as part of New Plays/Fresh Voices in a double-bill of "solo" work. The opening act is Maggie Gallant's Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower. Part of the value of the evening is the stark contrast between these two performers. Maggie Gallant is a white British woman who constructs her piece around a train station meeting with her birth mother. Zell Miller III plays and pays tribute to the birth of hip-hop, to the city of Austin, and to himself as a Prince-quoting eighth grader. "Solo" is in quotes because neither show truly is. Gallant's piece employs the device of a station agent/therapist who banters with her over the intercom. Miller's piece employs three hip-hop dancers to provide some visual aid.
Hot Dogs at the Eiffel Tower goes first and plays like the opening band, shorter and not nearly as strong as Miller's second act. Gallant does a nice job of embodying the characters she has chosen to portray: her adoptive mother, an imaginary dapper French father, an 11-year-old version of herself reading a school report on "My Perfect Day." The piece is at its best when she reconstructs awkward conversations which occurred during the pursuit of her birth parents. Otherwise, her negotiation and use of the stage leave much to be desired. The gimmicks falter, the transitions are awkward, the set is unnecessary.
Miller, on the other hand, uses transitions brilliantly. He can turn from hard rap to delicate theatre on a dime. He creates whole worlds on an empty stage. Pointing at one part of the stage, he says, "Right there! Right there!" with such force that you'll find yourself looking for something in the incorporeal air. Then Miller proceeds to tell us how on May 23, 1984, he learned that "in America, you cannot just say what you want, and you better not write it down, and if you write it down, you sure better know what it means." This leads to the side-splitting reenactment of the time in eighth grade when Miller's principal read aloud to Miller's mother a love letter that Miller had written in which he quotes lyrics from Prince's song "Head".
But it's not just fun. Miller provides sturdy social commentary. He criticizes the racism held firmly in place by I-35. He laments the loss of the original beauty that was present the night hip-hop was born. He works in a moment of silence for Richard Pryor. He honors his parents and the musicians that raised him. Miller's work is magnificent, and though he deserves the perfect audience, he'll perform his heart out for whatever one he gets.