Miguel Gutierrez and The Powerful People, Last Meadow
Posted by: Jen Olesen
My father loved James Dean. And Marlon Brando. I remember posters hanging in his living room from Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One. Originals. Framed. These men were important to him. They were in our home. As a kid I wondered why my dad gravitated to them so much. Why they were on our walls. I guess they did what most idols do – grab you at the right place and time to bridge the gap between who you are and who you’d like to be, however exaggerated or not. For my dad as a young man in the Midwest in the late 1950s who could have made more sense? James Dean embodied something so unaffected. Aloof. Unreachable. So masculine. But, of course, he was more than that.
In Last Meadow, Miguel Gutierrez and The Powerful People explore the connection between masculinity; misrepresentation of masculinity; inherited gender roles; structure of identity; identity as an oppressor; the lives we choose to keep private; the confusion that it causes; the American Dream and it’s bullshit; how that bullshit has changed through time…along with a smattering of other stuff. What happens when we hide large parts of ourselves from the rest of our waking reality? Whether it’s a conscious choice or based on external factors makes no difference. After a while it becomes habit. It’s repetition. A part of the routine. And it’s disorienting.
I can see how the complexity of Last Meadow‘s structure might be challenging for some who aren’t ready to digest it. It’s a big hunk of meat. The tone of the piece changes dramatically about halfway in while simultaneously breaking down the fourth wall. New walls are built, and then they break those down, too. There is a lot of exploration in repetition of movement and script which might feel tedious if one were sleepy or not paying close attention, but this exercise in repetition is crucial, beautiful, and deliberately contributed to my understanding of the work as a whole. The sound design is a fourth cast member. It’s dynamic and intense, and is so very perfect for The Powerful People. When I looked to see who did sound design and saw it was Neal Medlyn I mentally added The Works to my Wednesday night plans.
I remember hearing that James Dean wasn’t entirely straight right around the same time I told my mother I liked women as well as men. We were sharing a quiet dinner out with a bottle of wine. It was her 50th birthday. After I told her she said, “I think I knew that” and then her first question was, “Are you going to tell your dad?” Beyond my taste in art and music, and my ability to write I didn’t really inherit so much from my father. He and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of heavy-hitting subjects, and I knew that this would be one of them. BIG TIME. I never told him and we haven’t spoke in many years.
My relationship with my dad is my own last meadow. It’s the field I’ve chosen to ignore. Miguel Gutierrez and The Powerful People obviously brought up a lot for me. Beyond a base enjoyment of what they’re doing and feeling totally high after I left the theater, Last Meadow made me think about my dad, my own weird parallel to James Dean (?!?!), my dad’s love for Dean, and it made me wonder if my dad might have had a bit of gay deep down in there, too. Perhaps beyond all the layers of conditioning, the gender veil, the American Dream brainwash…maybe he did. Or maybe my openness to wonder about it is just another way of recognizing that we are more similar than I care to admit.
When questioned about his sexuality James Dean once said, “Well, I’m certainly not going through life with one hand tied behind my back.” I always thought it was a damn good answer.
Both Miguel Gutierrez and Neal Medlyn will be performing individually at The Works tonight in the old Washington High School. Don’t miss it!