by Tim Miller
Vancouver East Cultural Centre
October 18 – 22
604-280-3311 or www.ticketmaster.ca
Tim Miller is a well known American performance artist and gay activist who gained notoriety in 1990 as one of “the NEA Four” who sued the National Endowment for the Arts because their grants had been withdrawn on the grounds of indecency. Here for a short run at the Cultch, US is Miller’s angry, entertaining disquisition on Broadway musicals as the educational vehicle that allowed him to grow up gay-positive in gay-hating America.
US is driven by Miller’s personal situation. Because his partner Alistair is Australian and American laws won’t let them marry or even recognize their relationship so that Alistair can get a Green Card and stay in the US, Miller laments their being “forced into exile because of American injustice.”
An energetic, highly gestural performer who does everything BIG and provides a running commentary on what he’s doing as he’s doing it, Miller stalks the stage, bashing Bush, whom he reviles, at every opportunity, and regaling the audience with his deconstructions of musicals as the keys to gay life in America. They taught him everything he needed to know about politics and life: “Who needs Marx and Engels when you have Rodgers and Hammerstein?”
One of his paradigms is Gypsy, which he claims inspired him to be a stripper at age nine. And he’s been a stripper ever since, “stripping away lies, bullshit and hypocrisy.” The Sound of Music had a clear message for him: “leave organized religion, get laid, and fight fascism through singing and dancing.” Oliver was “the most homoerotic movie ever made,” and Man of La Mancha taught him to dream impossible dreams, like trying to stop the war in Vietnam.
He also riffs on his “eroto-colonialist” fixation on all those pretty Third World boys in National Geographic, “my first porn magazine.” He pulls a sampling of the magazines, along with album covers from his favorite musicals and an American flag, out of the suitcase that’s his only prop, symbol of his impending exile.
The Rainbow Bridge spanning the US and Canada at Niagara Falls is the highly symbolic setting of the last part of the show in which Miller celebrates Canada, the Promised Land of cute Mounties and gay marriage, then strips himself naked for a ferocious finale. But he’s not quite ready to commit to leaving the US, embracing instead the possibilities inherent in his punning title. “I still have hope for us.”
US is agitprop theatre clearly intended for an American audience. Miller worked really hard to elicit reactions of shock and empathy from the small opening-night audience at the Cultch. But Canadians know how dumb American social policies are, and we react with sympathy but not identification.
Still, this is a talented guy with a strong message. And it’s always nice to be reminded of what superior cultural values we really do have here in Canada.