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The More of a Freak You Become: Rude Mech’s The Method Gun, Acting, Danger, and the Most Colorful Armed Cults of the 1970s

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Andy Sturdevant of Salon Saloon shares his perspective on Thursday night’s performance of The Method […]

An SLA publicitiy image featuring Patty Hearst. Source: Wikipedia

An SLA publicity image featuring Patty Hearst

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Andy Sturdevant of Salon Saloon shares his perspective on Thursday night’s performance of The Method Gun by Rude Mechs. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

On a recent episode of Salon Saloon, the show I host at the Bryant-Lake Bowl here in Minneapolis, I made some vaguely witty retort to a guest that caught him a bit off-guard. He recovered quickly, and shook his head. “Always improvising on the fly,” he grumbled. “You theater kids.”

“Hey!” I protested. “I’m not a theater kid! I’m an art school kid! I’m a classic art school kid!”

Which is true: I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. I certainly didn’t mean to sound so defensive, but I think I reacted like I did because theater artists — and the art of acting, generally — have always seemed  the slightest bit baffling to me. Unlike visual arts, or fiction, or poetry, or music, I’ve always thought the way theater artists talk about their work is much more extreme. There’s so much more talk about “risk” and “bravery” and “pain” than in other disciplines; the language seems much more rooted in psychology and self-help and metaphysics. The stakes always seem higher. It just all sounds much more dangerous. It may be that I personally lack the forthrightness and moral courage to be an actor. The only real risk I take on a stage is getting out-zinged by my guest, or running out of Rusty Nails.

“Actors are freaks,” notes one of the characters in Rude Mech’s The Method Gun. “And the more you hang out with them, the more of a freak you become.” It’s a joke, of course, but over the 90 minutes of the show, you watch a troupe of fictitious actors on-stage engaging in some pretty extreme behavior in service of their art.

You don’t need to know much about theater history to know that the Method acting cults that sprung up in the 20th century around figures like Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler emphasized practices that, to a non-actor, can seem absurdly over-the-top. The production takes this approach to its extreme: it imagines a troupe of actors in the mid-1970s so dedicated to a guru-like teacher named Stella Burden that, even when she disappears into the jungles of South America, they carry on without her, rehearsing an unconventional adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire for nine years using the extreme methods she devised. At some point, another character dreamily suggests that they should have put their time and energy into armed robbery. The Patty Hearst-era setting suggests that, under slightly different circumstances, this gang of slightly damaged, lonely idealists could probably have easily found themselves in the Symbionese Liberation Army or any of the other colorful, counterculture-flavored armed cults of the period.

The audience had a great time, hooting and shouting encouragement throughout. It seemed to be an audience that really understood the absurd lengths people will go to make art, and Rude Mechs brilliantly walked the fine line between satire and homage. We see the actors rehearse the scenes of the play (there’s a nice recap in the middle of the show, but you might want to consider refreshing yourself on the plot and dialogue in Streetcar beforehand anyway) and engage in acting exercises. We see the actors break character to discuss the supposed research that went into creating the show and interviewing the original Burden players. The show takes its name from the literal gun that Stella Burden kept in rehearsals, to make literal to the actors the metaphoric life and death decisions they face on stage.

This idea of literal danger is made quite clear at the play’s end; I won’t spoil it, other than to say it’s a real showstopper and one of the best things I’ve seen happen on a stage in years. I can’t remember seeing a show where so many audience members around me inhaled their breath so sharply. It makes clear the fact that, yes, acting is dangerous. It requires, as I suggested earlier, bravery and a willingness to risk your safety, whether psychological or physical. To see it played out in those terms, after puzzling over it for ninety minutes, is nothing less than thrilling.

So what about you? Are you a theater kid? If so, do you thrill to danger and psychological brinksmanship? How about that set piece at the end? And wasn’t the Tiger the breakout star of the 2013 Out There season? Leave a comment!