Meredith Treinen’s collaborative show dives into gender, race, and sexuality
Meredith Treinen’s latest show, RE-LEASE, is not a fun show, but it is an important show. It is experimental theatre that dances, both literally and figuratively, around our “Me Too” society, with both an unapologetic rawness and a degree of surprising empathy. It allows its six characters — three men in grays and earth tones and three women in red and pink — to examine painful, secret, and shameful moments and share them with us. In doing so, it also asks us to examine gender, race, sexuality, and motherhood.
RE-LEASE is a deceptively simple show staged in a large room with an uneven concrete floor. Four supporting pillars create a pen of sorts, inside of which the actors dwell and outside of which the audience is free to prowl around in a circle, stalking our storytellers of choice. The actors have no props aside from several wooden dividers, set on wheels so they can be rolled around to block the characters into cliques. Mirrors, stationed in the corners of this pen offer a way to see characters that, from an audience member’s given vantage point, would not otherwise be visible. At the edges of the room, a minimalistic soundtrack is created with singing bowls and other unconventional instruments. It is such a quiet and intimate show that one can hear passing traffic just beyond the metal doors of the space.
At the show’s onset, the six actors are divided by gender. The three men fight. It’s playful at first, but the roughness gradually increases. The women check in on each other, telling each other they’re doing just fine. We get the impression that maybe they’re not just fine. The binary here is established: both genders act tough, in their own way.
Soon, we will learn about each character via a combination of monologue and dance. It’s worth noting that every monologue was jumpstarted by the actors’ personal experiences, making them especially poignant.
There is no easing into the stories. The first one, told by Juliet Deem, is about a sexual assault. It is not a violent one committed by a stranger, but one that is all too familiar. The way she tells the story is almost nonchalant, contrasted sharply with the following movement sequence in which she repeatedly positions herself into submissive sexual positions. It’s the way a partner might position you if they valued you as little more than a means to orgasm. A partner who’d been raised on heteronormative, hardcore pornography — a partner who felt like this is what you do to a woman if you want to be a man.
It is fitting that Deem’s tale is followed by Scott Monahan’s, who talks about being a chauvinistic college lad on the prowl for nothing but meaningless sex, regardless of who was hurt in the process. The guilt is palpable here and also in Zachary Sanders’ own monologue, a shivering admission of regret rooted in toxic masculinity. It’s often said that the patriarchy hurts men, too.
The stories are not all about sex, however. Many are about gender roles and constructs, and what is expected from cis women and cis men. Women must be beautiful, fit, smooth, delicate, subservient, not too loud. Women must be ever propelling towards what girls are too often told is the end-all, be-all of womanhood: selfless, sublime motherhood. (As a woman who has never wanted children, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told I’m wrong.)
Men, on the other hand, must be strong and stoic, almost brutish, never too feminine. Actor Matthew Maguire reveals his struggles with gender constructs in a monologue that is truly heartbreaking.
The stories are also about race. In a powerful moment, Jessica Emmanuel — the only woman of color in the cast — is tasked with propping up all three men herself. It’s a laborious task and not only do the other two women fail to assist her, the men can hardly help themselves. She’s exhausted, she tells us. And this is a familiar story, too; I see the black women in my life express this sentiment constantly. And you can read about it here, here, and here.
So, yeah. It’s not a fun show. It’s not a wish-fulfillment show. But it is a powerful, very human piece and one that asks you, a voyeur, to empathize with people who may not be you, but people you absolutely know in your life. We will, as in the lyrics of St. Vincent’s “Cheerleader” — which Deem sings at one point without a backing track — hold their bare bones with our clothes on. And then what will we do?