Resurrection Room Finds Gunnar Montana Hitting His Artistic Stride
Local choreographer—and former G Philly cover boy—Gunnar Montana is currently starring in his latest FringeArts piece Resurrection Room, one of a host of LGBT shows playing at this year’s festival. Unfortunately we haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but a reader, Mark Bolen sent this commentary that we wanted to share. Full disclosure: As you’ll discover when you read, Bolen is Gunnar’s ex-boyfriend, but conflict of interest aside, it offers a behind-the-scenes peek into the artistic evolution of one of Philly’s most promising up-and-coming performers, LGBT or otherwise. Check out his piece below.
I met Gunnar moonlighting at a Center City restaurant back in 2011, but he didn’t call himself Montana then. He was Gunnar Clark, an adorable UArts senior, bursting with energy and creativity. We became fast friends—and eventually boyfriends. I spent two years on a wild ride intimately linked to Gunnar’s evolution as an artist. During the course of that time I got to load my car full of shredded medical records, ride a stretcher down 8th Street at 2 a.m. (we got pulled over, but avoided a ticket), stand in a robe in my tub and be doused with black paint, and fold I don’t know how many paper plates and cone “spikes.”
However, like all good things, our relationship came to an end—but not without all the drama and heartache of a mid-20s breakup.
Fast-forward to this past weekend. The wounds have long healed; the gloves are off. I told Gunnar that my partner and I were coming to see Resurrection Room on Saturday night. He happened to be by the door when we arrived. The three of us exchanged big hugs and smiles. He was brimming with pre-performance nerves and energy. We were intrigued by what was in store.
Art evolves, and Gunnar’s has been no exception. His initial ideas are a bit schizophrenic, and his work usually ends up far from where he started. RUB, his first Fringe show, began as a piece that examined the beautiful side of striptease and ended up an outrageous post-apocalyptic, boob-filled extravaganza. Basement began as a film concept (literally in our basement), but by the time it hit Fringe it was based on his version of our breakup—complete with a poster suggesting his brutal murder-by-chainsaw of an Asian man representing my current partner (as you can imagine, I did not buy tickets to that one). However, things normally land on their feet in Gunnar Land, and his work impresses.
For me, Resurrection Room shows how remarkably far Gunnar’s art has evolved in these few short years. The audience maneuvers through a candlelit stairway, transported to a room representing another gorgeous corner of Gunnar’s creative mind. The performance plays out almost like a dark but exciting and oh-so-entertaining video game, complete with “levels” and “bosses.” I don’t want to give too much away, but among the more memorable scenes are outrageously funny drag geishas in stilettos, and a solo by the talented Stephi Lyneice, who dances with a floating mask, lulling you into thinking you are watching a beautiful duet. Most impressive is how much more refined of a show Resurrection Room is than his previous work. Forget any gimmicks or low-hanging artistic fruit: He is hitting his stride, and it shows.
Gunnar has his hands and eyes on every detail of his art, designing and physically making the costumes, sets, props, and music. Resurrection Room showcases this beautifully, from the thousands of CDs he melted by hand and glued all over the set, to a machine “voice” that I pegged as his own, altered using his computer.
After the show, the three of us chatted about the show over beers. When the geishas came up, Gunnar turned toward my partner and said, “Well, originally they were based on you and were supposed to be these evil demons, because I hated you so much. But as the idea evolved, I realized I didn’t hate you anymore, so they became much more beautiful.” Typical Gunnar: unapologetic, always evolving, always quintessentially himself.