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Naked Breath

Tim Miller's considerable writing and performing skills are in evidence in his latest solo performance piece, "Naked Breath." But his new work has yet to coalesce into a satisfying whole.

Tim Miller’s considerable writing and performing skills are in evidence in his latest solo performance piece, “Naked Breath.” But his new work has yet to coalesce into a satisfying whole.

Even more than his previous work, this piece is a defiant celebration of Miller’s gay sexuality. In relating tale after tale of meeting a potential partner and ultimately making fabulous love with him, Miller makes it clear that neither AIDS nor big-mouthed moralists will stand in the way of his sensual pleasure.

The problem is, these stories begin to seem one-note after a time, and thematically, they never add up to much more than “isn’t sex great?” Miller attempts to preempt such criticism by stopping the show halfway through, acknowledging his obsession, and then explaining that sex represents for him “the great gift and secret of life.”

The truth of that highly subjective assertion aside, it doesn’t change the fact that these stories tend to blend into one another, and that the show has no dramatic shape. Given “Naked Breath’s” subject matter, it is supremely ironic that it doesn’t build to a climax.

Also annoying is the Christ-like imagery Miller employs at several points — such as standing centerstage with his arms outstretched, as if he were on a cross. What, precisely, is he trying to say through such gestures?

These problems aside, there are many pleasures here. Miller has such a likable stage presence that he makes material that could easily be offputting palatable and even charming. What’s more, his writing skills remain sharp; he is the master of the metaphor. Many writers have used the image of “reeling in” a lover, but how many allow themselves to experience the feeling from the fish’s point of view? “You always end up flopping on a deck,” Miller notes — a striking image of vulnerability.

One hopes Miller will use this run at Highways to continue to refine this amusing, provocative but ultimately disappointing work. It’s interesting to hear a gay man in 1994 preach against monogamy. But in doing so, he must be careful to avoid monotony.

Naked Breath

(Highways, Santa Monica; 99 capacity; $ 12 top)

Production: Highways Performance Space presents a work written and performed by Tim Miller, with the songs of the late Michael Callen. Technical direction by Jerry Browning. Opened, reviewed Feb. 18, 1994; runs through March 19.

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