Stage

In the opening scene, Mills tosses his wiry frame into a patio chair and vividly describes an all-American family of nicotine addicts posing for a Flag Day picnic photo. Accompanied by pianist David Buuck's cleverly allusive score, and Please Louise Productions' motley video imagery, Mills narrates Helvetica Bold's rise to stardom after her hair catches on fire that sunny summer day. From Connie Chung's insomnia to Loretta Swift's prescient call to her agent, Mills embodies a host of media personalities with quick voguing gestures and machine-gun-fire delivery. Throughout the show, director Danny Scheie's impeccable comic timing shines through Mills' movements.

From this surreal media fantasia, Mills shifts to a seemingly autobiographical mode. When Jesse, his boyfriend, tells David that he just "doesn't feel the attraction anymore," David shoots back, "Fuck you. How would you like to be in traction?" Gay life in San Francisco comes to life as a series of vapid club scenes, porno-driven theater pieces, and a prevailing sense of loneliness: Summing it up, Mills says, "I'm in a city full of gay men who all want to be in a relationship." Though insider critiques of gay culture aren't hard to find, Mills sometimes distinguishes himself by his willingness to be viciously specific and specifically vicious. In describing an "urban primitive" performer who recounts his sexual experiences with men from different cultures, Mills quips: "It was supposed to be about race. All I learned was that everybody's the same with Keith Hennessy's dick up their butt." (Hennessy is a local dancer, performer, political activist, and longtime fixture of the anarchist queer scene.)

The 90-minute show is united by this theme: Mills thinks we use lurid tales to cover up our isolation. He's pissed about it. Mixing energetic bravado with adolescent vitriol, his words spray like battery acid over the audience -- eliciting as many winces as laughs. But such clear invective comes with a strange price. His high-flown cultural critiques are in one important sense a thin disguise for a surprisingly petty personal plight. After "the show" ends and Mills takes his bow, he launches into an exquisite rant about how his performances have never gotten a review; local critics, he says, are too busy covering shows by "ex-porn stars." Midtirade, he breaks into an abstruse lounge act, singing "how hard it is to be green." Is the whole show actually about envy? I suddenly wondered. Does Mills despise tabloid culture because it debases us -- or because he's losing press to the chiseled hunks at New Conservatory Theater? It's an unsavory moment of truth.

Anyone who has been close to a struggling actor has witnessed thespian-envy's leechlike drain on the artist's pure heart, but rarely do audiences get a glimpse of it onstage doing its ugly thing on the performer in real time. But here's the weird thing: This display of self-pity was the most riveting moment of the show. It actually worked. Complaining about reviews is a funnel-minded reason to make art, and I wouldn't want to see it again soon, but Mills was refreshing in his willingness to reveal the tainted underside of his scorn for fame.

-- Carol Lloyd

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