Review: Last Meadow at the Colony Theater
Imagine multiple movies being projected on a single screen, with clashing soundtracks and images of people and spaces emerging and then disappearing into formlessness. This is what it was like to watch Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People perform Last Meadow at the Colony Theater last weekend, part of Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs’ Cultura del Lobo series. The evening opened with a person dressed like James Dean, slumped over in the dark, mumbling into a microphone. Only a few words were audible, and it was impossible to decode this character’s behavior. Intense regret? Too many drinks? When the character finally stood up and faced the audience, we could see that he was a woman, actually, wearing a funny blonde James Dean-esque wig and posing like a man. She (Michelle Boulé) was joined onstage by a man (Tarek Halaby) with incredible poise wearing a ‘50s era skirt, and another man (Gutierrez) dressed as a caricature of a man. One could easily assume from this impenetrable beginning that it was going to be a long, uncomfortable night. But somehow, Last Meadow was an infinitely entertaining, flawlessly executed wild ride. Cross-dressing was the most obvious form of disorientation and Gutierrez didn’t take it anywhere in particular – to his credit. Femininity and masculinity were simply made strange and we were forced to see the entire show through a confusing lens. After a while, gender, even in reverse, became one of the only stable reference points. The three performers generally maintained the exaggerated body language of male or female, according to their character. Sometimes, though, they slipped into less identifiable movement that seemed generated from improvisational games, music videos, film, or somewhere else in the noise field of contemporary culture.Last Meadow does have cinematic origins. Many of its audio and visual elements were taken from three James Dean classics: East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. While Last Meadow would technically be categorized as dance, the characters moved mostly in gestures, poses, and facial expressions, and large sections of choreography were modeled on the scripted movement that actors use. All three performers could pull off a fabulous arabesque. They could also hit themselves, act like zombies, run around in their underwear, and stuff microphones in their mouths with total commitment. It was exhilarating to watch, especially when the logic of the performance completely disintegrated as it did every ten minutes or so. Just when a sequence began to seem comfortable and familiar, the lighting would change, the performers would switch gears, and all of a sudden a completely different show was in progress. Lenore Doxsee’s articulate lighting effects defined architectural spaces, times of day and emotional states, so shifts in lighting threw the audience instantly from one framework into another. Neal Medlyn’s soundscape functioned as another disorienting agent that continuously led us into a nowhere place. Film scores flooded in and out, and a collage of dialogue from the three James Dean films was spoken by the performers, looped in sound cycles and filtered through all kinds of distortion. Last Meadow describes a pervasive collapse of meaning and structure. A recorded voice whispered “America is a disaster.” Fractured family dramatics played out between a father and son. Scenes repeated. Even the illusion of performance was dismantled when the three performers dropped their characters completely. The show was incomprehensible, and that was the point. Thankfully, Gutierrez’s potentially unnerving message was delivered with humor.