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Tim Miller in Us
Photo © John Aigner
He had a dream -- a wonderful dream, Papa. And an impossible dream. Tim Miller explains in Us that he dreamed the Broadway musical offered possibilities for a world better than the one in which he lived. He also dreamed of a United States flag in which the white stripes are made of Gypsy album covers, the red stripes of Godspell album covers, and the blue stripes of Oliver album covers. Indeed, the only set for Miller's must-see-and-hear Us is the very flag of which he speaks, hung as a backdrop to his inflammatory declarations of gay independence. (In the program, the flag is credited to no one; maybe Miller constructed it himself. Nor are their credits for the expert lighting or the sound design, which includes large snatches of Ethel Merman's gloriously silly disco recording.)

For many years and through many performance pieces, Miller has shown his naked body -- at one point to the notorious chagrin of the NEA. But it's his naked mind that's been his more significant weapon in stripping away the hypocrisies that he sees in American life. With Us, Miller laments that there is "not one single Federal right" for gay citizens. Unable to legally wed his 10-year partner, Alistair, Miller has chosen to air his thoughts in a piece built on a life-long devotion to musical comedies. "I have learned everything I need to know from these shows about love, politics and America," he says proudly. "Forget Marx and Engels; I had Rodgers and Hammerstein."

Elaborating on the lessons that American and British musicals have imparted, he mentions that 1776 "taught me America was founded by merchant-capitalist hypocrites who dared to write about human freedom while most of them owned human slaves," that The Sound of Music "showed me it was crucial to leave organized religion behind, get laid, and fight Nazis through festive song and dance," that South Pacific "showed me you could fight bigotry while being surrounded by hunky, naked soldiers and drag queens." Miller keeps things rollicking while explaining why he's outraged that he and Alistair, a Scot, may have to leave the country at the end of October -- when Alistair's visa expires --to marry in Canada or elsewhere. He points out that there are countries where the freedoms of which America boasts actually exist. "For a gay person," he says, "when you leave the U.S. and step into Canada, that's when you enter the free world."

Starting from an anecdote about stripping to tracks from Gypsy in front of his brothers when he was eight, Miller ends by proclaiming that he's still stripping. He insists that he's a Gypsy stripper in that he's "Gypsy Rose Lee with a fourth of July American flag as the fan for my dance." He calls himself a 1776 stripper because "my pursuit of happiness is being royally fucked with." Before he's done, he has literally stripped off the black tank top and Calvin Klein boxers that he's been wearing. Well, it wouldn't be a Tim Miller show if he didn't take it all off -- and for those wondering whether if he's still as handsomely fit as he was 25 years ago when he helped found P.S. 122, the answer is yes. (See photo.)

In addition to the chance to listen to someone so articulate talk about gay anger, Miller offers the audience something nearly as unique: a consideration of why musicals comedies have become associated with homosexual men. (The situation, of course, has long since become a tired comedy reference.) His discussion of musicals' subtexts is highly personal. Nevertheless, he does begin to explicate with validity part of the appeal that tuners have for such a large percentage of the gay population. He suggests that the hope offered by musicals -- even those that have taken up serious subjects -- is gratifying for men who feel otherwise disenfranchised. (Miller isn't the first to say this, but he's the first to say it with such fire and fun.)

Flaws in Us? There are moments when Miller seems to be rattling on. The sequence wherein he talks about witnessing a United States-Canada tug-of-war and realizes that he's the rope is overly long. On the other hand, it's no crime when people in a fury lose their editing sense.

As Miller packs up the suitcase out of which he's pulled his LPs, an issue of National Geographic (which he says was his first porn magazine), and an American flag, he states that he still has hope. At one point in the 80-minute piece, he wraps the flag around his neck to demonstrate graphically and frighteningly that he's choked by government policies. Yet he concludes in his always-a-stripper finale that when he does move somewhere else to be with Alistair permanently, he will take the flag with him. "It's part of me -- it's in me," he says. Hooray for Us.

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