My Child, My Child, My Alien Child

My Child, My Child, My Alien Child reveals poet-performer Zell Miller III in Richard Pryor mode, spinning tales of fatherhood in richly comic, broadly accessible style

Arts Review

My Child, My Child, My Alien Child

Hyde Park Theatre, through April 7

Running time: 1 hr, 35 min

"My son is the thunderstorm." That's how Zell Miller III describes his offspring at the outset of My Child, My Child, My Alien Child, and in the solo performance that follows, his reactions to this boy are very like those of, well, a child to a force of nature: equal parts awe and terror. As a baby, as an infant, as a toddler, and as a young grade-schooler, Zell Miller IV, or Zelly, displays such inexhaustible energy, gale-force enthusiasm, bottomless curiosity, unshakable will, and sheer ear-piercing volume as to seem other than human to his dumbfounded dad. And the idea that this … creature sprang from his loins just adds to the bewilderment of Zell père. In the course of an hour and a half, Miller provides a guided tour of new fatherhood, including all the standard rites of initiation: the moment he's told by his expectant wife that "it's time," the agony of the labor, the ecstasy of the birth, the shock of the newborn in all its pinched and squalling glory, the first contact, the sleep deprivation, the battle of wills, the loss of privacy, the frustrations, but also the joy, the pride, the love like no other. And Miller treats most every stop along the way as an opportunity for an extended comic riff, rendering in vivid, humorous detail the latest startling thing his son has done, his usually flummoxed response, and the mental state he's left in as he struggles to process yet another incident in this strange journey of parenting he's on.

This is Miller very much in Richard Pryor mode, approaching these universal experiences of parenthood as the late comedian did, as stories of richly drawn characters that, while occasionally profane, are broadly accessible in their observation of behavior and portrayal of human foibles and human comedy. We recognize ourselves in these stories, as we did in Pryor's, and Miller is gifted enough as a writer and so utterly engaging as a storyteller to make us feel what he is describing and, many times, to laugh uproariously at it as well. (The tale of 5-year-old Zelly dropping the F-bomb – indeed, the mutha F-bomb – on his grammy and its effect on the lady who, when she was rearing papa Zell, snacked on ground glass and routinely spit out F-bombs in every direction, is a riot.) Miller's work here reveals that the theatre's gain is definitely stand-up comedy's loss.

Which is not to say that the Zell Miller of old, the poet of passion and politics, the inventive and incendiary wordsmith, the dazzling stringer-together of words and bringer of truth, is absent here. One of the most striking parts of My Child, My Child, My Alien Child, and the thing that makes it a true Zell Miller work and not just an homage to Richard Pryor, is a series of breaks titled "Sketches of Consciousness for My Son," where the playwright/performer employs poetry to describe for his son the experience of being an African-American man in this country, providing condensed history lessons and interpreting the challenges that the young Zell will face as he grows to manhood. They have a biting beat and a fierceness of heart that charge the show in bursts of rhythm and urgency. They are very specific and very loaded – ticking off the violent deaths of black men in the last five decades, for example – but they are no less universal for that, for we all share in that history and this culture, and we know – or should know – the injustice he talks about. And they are universal in their source: the impulse of a father to protect his child, to educate and prepare him for the unfairness of the world, and, if possible, to spare him that awful pain of discovering it himself.

That fervent connection to this boy of his is what drives this show in all its moments, comedic and dramatic. Without it, Miller wouldn't be so mystified by this child's seeming alienness or express such fiery concern for his future in racially charged America. Miller and his attentive and focused director, Ken Webster, have seen to it that every moment, every word of the show is infused with that connection, with the deep, abiding love of a father for his son. The show closes with Zell the dad putting Zell the son to bed, with the boy's actual voice reciting a simple child's prayer. As Miller speaks the words along with him, a profound tenderness of feeling moves out from the stage and over us. If the child is a thunderstorm, then the father is certainly a gentle, soothing breeze.

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My Child, My Child, My Alien Child, Zell Miller III, Hyde Park Theatre, Ken Webster, spoken word

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