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STAGE REVIEW : ‘Sex/Love/Stories’ Is an Explosive Ode to Gay Life

TIMES THEATER WRITER

In these days of AIDS in crisis, activism and art have fused into a Mobius strip. Out of anxiety they have become one.

“Sex/Love/Stories,” Tim Miller’s first show in 18 months at Highways, a performance space he helped establish in Santa Monica, is a stream-of-consciousness clarion call--stories about sex, love and, inevitably, AIDS, culled from five years’ worth of his own work and so seamlessly assembled that the show feels freshly minted and all of a piece. It is part gossip, part storymaking, part performance, part shock, part pain, all drive.

By definition, performance art is so undefined that anything goes. That is its hit and its miss. There’s plenty of room in there for pretension and pretext. Also for acutely subjective, raw expression. Sometimes, it manages to be artistic.

Miller, who is clearly among those who have something to say, does it through explosions of physical and mental energy so coiled and spontaneous that the expression, no matter how raw, becomes at once artful and moving.

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Singled out last year as one of the notorious “NEA four"--a quartet of artists denied National Endowment for the Arts grants for endeavors deemed more offensive than valid--Miller has been a particular bete noire to conservatives. He is that most terrifying of hyphenates: a gay militant activist-artist, whose sexual preference has become what propels his art.

Granted, the vigor and frankness of his work are not for all circles. But Miller is an unchained crusader for truth and an ardent defender of homosexual choice. His weapons are body and mind. His strategy: a garrulous assault of anecdote, humor, observation and social comment, punctuated by movement and channeled through life experience.

The motto-phor for this former Boy Scout from Whittier, repeated frequently, is having sex with the 20th Century. Marrying into his time, even if it has to be a shotgun marriage. He tells us a dream-tale about a trip to the Hollywood Bowl where he floated over the stage while the fat lady sang, and a nightmare-tale about a trip to New York City where his search for a place to live took him to a shady apartment building prophetically dubbed “The Maw of Death.”

It was there that he met Gordon, the first guy he knew to die of AIDS. The pain of AIDS is present and palpable everywhere.

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You might call Miller’s act elevated chitchat or fervent evangelism, underscored by action and uninhibited language. That evaluation must remain in the ear of the listener. But within this prescribed context and mission, Miller is an artist. The continuity in his work is his idee fixe : the desire to at once demystify and uphold the notion of gayness. Nothing achieves this better than bluntness, which accounts for the intentional shock value of some episodes and the baldness of the words.

* “Sex/Love/Stories,” Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Fridays-Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Ends March 24. $10; (213) 453-1755. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.


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