Chicago is blessed to have the attention of Tim Miller, a California-based performance artist whose level of engagement with social justice is admirable, to say the least. Regularly performing here and mentoring Chicago youth, I’ve been lucky to catch his last few pieces. While their format has always been the same, the attention grabbing manner in which Miller weaves personal anecdotes into intelligent analysis of current events is unique. He’s reliably dressed in a black tank top and shorts and uses props, eye contact, movement and metaphor to draw a thick line between what he does and simple stand up. His recent work has focused on gay marriage–a long term relationship with Australian author Alistair McCartney has obviously brought the issue to a boiling point, and the high energy, spittling politico’s want for equality has translated into the frustrated patriotism of “Lay of the Land,” playing through Sunday at Victory Garden’s Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
Make no mistake, Miller has fought tooth and nail for his (and our) rights. A long history with civil disobedience and “the process,” his experience gives a heavy weight to his insistence. My personal extra-lefty circles have never embraced gay marriage as their front-and-center cause, using phrases such as “post-queer” to summarize their distance between their radical justice efforts and those LGBT’s that have marriage equality as their activist priority. From where I’m standing, all of our efforts to increase visibility and legal inclusion (whether it’s marriage, health care or immigration reform) are interconnected. The thought of having one without the others is unacceptable. Miller’s generation (he’s in his early 50′s) and wish to have his partner’s residency solidified is a perfect example of how gay marriage and immigration reform are connected. It’s not the entire picture, but it is more than an adequate frame for his inspiring stories.
“Lay of the Land” starts with a detailed account of literally trying to get some sunshine up his ass, then transitions to a childhood choking incident with a potential kitchen-table tracheotomy and continues expanding its radius until we are flying over the United States with Miller flamboyantly flapping his arms across the stage. There’s video, song, and enough autobiography to feel as though you’ve gotten to know someone. A gifted story teller by nature, LOTL’s power lies in Miller’s willingness to show himself–more than once the performer drops, and emotional swell flash-floods his eyes. In that moment, the walls drop and overwhelmed is the room with an intimacy that can only clue us to the love Miller feels for his partner and his country. That reconciliation is something we are left longing for, regardless of whether or not we want gay marriage as part of our personal story.
Through Sunday in the Richard Christiansen Theater at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.; Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes; Tickets: $25 at 773-871-3000 and www.victorygardens.org