Rude Mechs executes a postmodern deconstruction on the tuner form in “I’ve Never Been So Happy,” a sentiment unlikely to be shared by many patrons departing the Kirk Douglas Theater. The Mechs are shooting for a Fringe Festish/”Urinetown” take on the West’s true nature, but instead of targeted witty satire they offer a titanically inconsequential storyline, stale Brechtian signage and meandering songs.
Librettist Kirk Lynn can’t be bothered to set up why the thuggish Brutus (Lowell Bartholomee), improbable host of some sort of Nashville-style TV variety series, won’t let daughter Annabellee (Meg Sullivan) out of the house, nor why the C&W diva doesn’t just bolt if, as she sings, she’s so very restless. (She’s even more pitchy than she is restless.)
Prime stage time is devoted to a dachshund desert race – yup, you heerd right, podner – before we shift to a “wymyn’s commune” from which Julie (Cami Alys) must exile son Jeremy (E. Jason Liebrecht) the day he becomes a man. She does so by tying him by rope to Texas’ last mountain lion, sending fella and feline on their journey to enlightenment.
Julie wails “if I were a queen” she’d have Jeremy remain with her forever, but before the song’s over she’s boasting she acted for his own good. She keeps explaining her decision in speech and song, and by the fifth attempt you may wish you’d brought along some lengths of rope of your own to wipe some smirks off the assembled faces.
Eventually the theme is spelled out in block letters: The West must find a way to accommodate developers of the land and of the spirit; humans and beasts; tradition and progress; men and wymyn alike. It’s a QED notion not much activated in the DOA narrative, in which little is ever at stake.
The buttonless numbers evoke nothing more western than the emo ballads an Austin cafe might commission on Open Mike Night. Composer Peter Stopschinski summons up a distinctive act two instrumental prelude, and a stirring drum break performed by the communards (if Darth Vader’s Death Star hosted a lesbian collective, this is what they’d sound like).
The lion gets a funny “I Can Has Cheezburger”-style ditty, and dachshunds Jenny Larson and Paul Soileau crank up some chuckles, though their switch to German accents for a joke-telling session obliterates the humor.
But then, entertainment-dampening is the Mechs’ clearly-intended strategy throughout. You feel it would somehow be beneath them to indulge an audience with enjoyable tunes, genuinely felt emotions and characters other than crude stereotypes (Bartholomee’s dull heavy; Kerri Atwood’s butchily obnoxious sheriff).
Dayna Hanson’s choreography consists of line dancing moves combined with the deliberate arm gestures of the Macarena.
For preshow and the half-hour “shindig” intermission, the Douglas lobby has been decorated in the manner of a budget-challenged high school’s junior prom with a “Death Valley Days” theme. At the Drink & Stink Saloon the turkey chili is quite tasty, better poured over the cornbread than the Fritos.