There are plays that are seen and plays that are felt. Re-Lease, the latest devised work from Meredith Treinen, is the latter; an explosion of feeling in what was once a silent place. As I stand, circling the performance space, glancing into the well-placed mirrors that reflect so much more than the faces and bodies of the performers, the feeling spreads from the crown of my head to the arches of my feet, burning the entire way down.
Treinen’s collaborative work as Creative Producer (along with Derek Spencer as Artistic Director) for Ceaseless Fun in recent months has provided a wealth of innovation that’s exceedingly welcome in the immersive theatre community. They Who Saw the Deep, in particular, showcased Treinen’s ability to blend movement and spirit together, allowing a complex work to become a living thing around its audience. Consequently, it’s a distinct pleasure to see Treinen continue with her evocative solo work, previously displayed in 2017’s Grief — the creative font from which her work with Ceaseless flows becomes a deluge of intimacy when she is alone at the helm.
Re-lease is a piece about movement, violence, memory, and space. It is a piece about the relationships men and women have to each other, to their society, and to themselves. It is powerful, it is transcendent, it is a naked exploration of the human soul. As such, the piece is as uncomfortable as much as it is beautiful — a physical manifestation of pain — the very walls of the space sigh and exhale along with my own breath as it catches in my throat.
The space itself, Vocal Warehouse in Los Angeles, is a stark, industrial building. Within it, Treinen and her team have brought life into a series of crisp, white walls that surround the performance area. The performers literally shift the space around as they work within it: walls close in on performers Juliet Deem, Jessica Emmanuel, and Deanna Noe as they reach and stretch, crying out, vocalizing tragedy. Always separated from the women by these moving walls are Matthew Maguire, Scott Monahan, and Zachary Sanders, providing a troubled and contrasting presence. That the set includes actual, shifting barriers that prevent connection between the groups of performers is a stunning, silent commentary on the disparity between gender roles, deftly noting existing differences far beyond the physical.
The structure of Re-lease defies narrative; it’s not telling a specific story, it’s telling a story we all share as human beings. As with Grief before it, there is a provocative, shocking honesty to Treinen’s work. Her prose combined with the brutal, all-too-real revelations of her cast blend together sumptuously, rising in a literal cacophony along with the innovative sound work by Jordana Lilly and Dakota Loesch. Loesch and Lilly create a wall of sound that almost seems illogical — sheets rustling, bottles clanking, this building, ever-present thing — a symphony of human noises echoing around these six performers as they tear themselves apart to expose their own frailty.
Few creators and casts can toe such a delicate, unspoken line between stage and sincerity. As such, Re-lease is a triumph of devised experimental theatre; it’s the medium at its best. Meredith Treinen’s comprehension of the human experience as a narrative is truly on point. In a landscape populated by Instagram palaces and selfie stations that are broadly labelled as “immersive theatre,” it’s pieces like Re-lease that remind us what defines the genre while simultaneously redefining it. It goes well beyond the sensation that the audience is a part of the performance in order to instill the work itself with a level of familiarity that deeply reflects the audience’s own personal experience.
Re-lease is a sensation that lingers long after those white walls shift for the final time; an unmissable addition to the lexicon of immersive theatre, and theatre as a whole. Re-lease will linger long with me, like the haunting realization that I’ve seen something both forbidden and yet deeply, unsettlingly true.
Photos courtesy of Elena Kulikova Studio