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Review: 'Lay of the Land' at Highways

May 20, 2009 |  8:30 pm

TIM MILLER -LAY OF THE LAND Given that Prop. 8, the anti-same-sex marriage ballot measure, is currently under review by the California Supreme Court, an automatic edge accompanies the giddy timeliness of "Lay of the Land," which ends its Highways run on Saturday. Gay performance artist Tim Miller's latest foray into purposeful self-examination is in some ways his most important work to date.

Miller's technique hasn't essentially changed, just ripened like wine. He still investigates the audience close-up from the outset, invading the aisles with a flashlight. His delivery remains a fusion of half-closed eyes, mercurial inward focus and outwardly pointed insouciance. The rambling commentary, peppered with interjections that trade gloss for spontaneity, enters territory as exhilarating as it is meaningful.

What particularly distinguishes "Land" is the tautly impressive text. The story of Abraham and Isaac forms one point of identification, choking on gristle and a near-tracheotomy by his father another, as Miller lays out his unapologetically renegade viewpoint with exemplary economy and sardonic humor. Marriage equality is the thematic undercurrent against which reminiscences of various activist and performance landmarks coalesce into something larger than the sum of their considerable parts.

Stagecraft is minimal -- a microphone, projections of the 48 continental states, delicious childhood pictures, and a clothesline. This comes into indelible play at the climax, where the U.S. and California state flags provide fodder for Miller's most audaciously effective observations. The resulting tableau and final apotheosis stand high in Miller's canon, which, together with the overarching relevance, makes "Lay of the Land" a vivid, must-see achievement.

-- David C. Nichols

"Lay of the Land," Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Ends Saturday. $20. (310) 315-1459 or Running time: 1 hour.

Photo by John Aigner