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The Method Gun at Kirk Douglas Review - Wild Circus of Ideas

By Georja Umano and Gerald Everett Jones

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L to R: Lana Lesley, Jason Liebrecht, Hannah Kenah and Thomas Graves

Georja: The Method Gun, created and performed by members of the Austin, TX troupe Rude Mechs, is a wacky send-up of Tennessee Williams, formal theater training, as well as an exploration of loyalty to a guru. The story centers on a nine-year rehearsal period by a troupe of actors who have been following Stella Burden, a fictitous acting coach who encouraged dangerous methods (hence the gun), and then fled to South America, never to be seen again.

Graves displays the "method gun" housed in a birdcage, used to instill fear during rehearsals

Gerald: The piece seems as though it evolved from improv sketches and theater games. But it has the unifying storyline of the abandoned acting group, instructed by their coach to perform Streetcar Named Desire but leaving out all the principal roles. Their rehearsals, group encounters and personal interactions are played out in flashback and flash-forward over the years, interspersed by the scenes they perform from Streetcar. At one level, it’s a parody of all the weird and seemingly pointless exercises you were ever given by oddball instructors. Yet ultimately you get the notion that you never stop responding to that old programming, and you are somehow the wiser for it.

L to R: Liebrecht, Lesley (back turned), Graves and Kenah. Lesley also plays piano on stage

Georja: The story unfolds in a disjointed concoction of ribald circus acts, including a funny and delightful nude episode involving helium balloons, and a mystrious, charismatic and vulgar tiger who comes on as though doing a stand up act. The actors go in and out of the fourth wall, and display thrilling moments of serious acting intermixed with seemingly spontaneous silly routines. Rarely have I witnessed so much freedom of style on stage. It is chockfull of insider theatre jokes. And did I say it is amusing, and at times hilarious?  And it all manages to come full circle and make the audience think in a very personal way about someone in their own life who has been an inspiration. That is quite a lot for any theatre piece to accomplish.

Liebrecht contorts, as they all do in various acting exercises

Gerald: There’s a principle in psychology that says a story has more power over you after it’s been “forgotten,” when it persists as an influence in your subconscious mind. The acting exercises and games that the troupe got from their guru inform and influence their lives and relationships long after the classes are over. I even wonder whether the name of their fictitious instructor, Stella Burden, is meant to echo this theme. The real-life mentor Stella Adler is closely associated with the Method, and those lessons follow her students around for life, a kind of psychological burden, an influence that they can’t avoid, that helped make them who they are today. (Although the parallel with Stella in Streetcar is also undeniable.)

Georja: It was difficult to absorb some of the action on stage as we happened to be sitting near the handful of audience members who hung on every nuance and screeched and hollered their recognition of every single acting reference.  I noticed that not everyone had this reaction although surely everyone found some nuggets to respond to.

L to R: Graves, Shawn Sides (director) Liebrecht, three of the five performers of Rude Mechs (one doubles as the Tiger)

Gerald: One of the first things the troupe does is to ask the audience to write the names of their influential mentors on slips of paper, which are then taken up in a collection. At the end of the evening, those names scroll by on the rear screen in a credit roll. I wasn’t surprised to see the name of the teacher I’d written. But I was very surprised to see some other names – and not necessarily famous ones – instructors I had in bygone theater courses and neighbors from the local community. The conclusion I drew was that, not only have some people I’ve known deeply influenced others in the audience, but also members of this audience have a lot in common, in very personal and intimate ways.

Georja: There is no real character development, and the timeline jumps back and forth from rehearsal dates in the 60s and 70s (as it spanned a nine year rehearsal period) to one jump 35 years in the future – 2007. Actors seem to spontaneously follow their impulses, such as breaking into goofy movements. One has to admire so much talent and discipline to put together such a piece. You could say the production  is the height of quirkiness. And if you like quirky, I mean that in the best possible way.

Gerald: As a theatrical experience it’s absurdist, but I had the uneasy feeling when all was done that it wasn’t nearly absurd enough. Pirandello, Beckett, some of Pinter is just so mysterious all you are left with is a feeling. So is it a legitimate complaint that, murky as the material is, it almost made too much sense?

Georja: That can happen with too much analysis! It left me with lots of feelings! But then, I guess you are following the learning of different instructors!

PHOTOS by CRAIG SCHWARTZ 

Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate. Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hempill series of comic novels.

The Method Gun, created and performed by Rude Mechs

June 14 - 26, 2011 (Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 6:30pm, except Friday, June 24 at 10pm; two shows on Saturdays 4pm and 8pm)

THE KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE

9820 Washington Bl.

Culver City, CA 90232

www.centertheatregroup.org

(213) 628 2772 (Audience Services)

All seats $26 (except $10 for season ticket holders)

 



Published on Jun 16, 2011

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