Coming off the 2010 Humana Festival (and no doubt on its way to a theater near you), “The Method Gun” is a choice example of Rude Mechs’ satirical wit and inventive performance style. Riffing off the notion that a legendary acting guru has abandoned her innovative production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and left it in the hands of her acolytes, the Austin-based ensemble sends up bizarre Method acting techniques while paying its respects to the collaborative creative process of dedicated companies like … well, like their own.
The deadpan earnestness of Thomas Graves (Thomas Graves) both invites and discourages laughter when he steps forward to fill us in on the backstory of the production we’re about to see. It seems that Stella Burden, a great (if apocryphal) teacher who pioneered a punishing training technique known as the Approach, walked out on her students and disappeared into South America, leaving the company to do what they will with nine years of rehearsal preparation for an experimental production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
The situation is pricelessly funny, especially when it comes out that this American classic will be performed in its entirety — only without the characters of Stanley, Stella, Mitch and Blanche. But do you really want to hurt the collective feelings of this sadly abandoned ensemble?
Maybe not; but just try holding back the laughter when the company breaks out its beloved guru’s esoteric acting exercises.
First up is “Crying Practice,” a three-minute trial in which company members line up and silently will themselves to dissolve into tears.
Another gem is “Kissing Practice,” a clinical breakdown (and illustration) of the classic stage clinch, as per an actual acting textbook.
But the piece de resistance is an exercise performed on Rasa Boxes, marked-off sections of the stage designating some dozen emotions or actions to be performed by whoever lands on that space. “Fight” means rolling around on the floor; “Romantic” invites a reprise of Kissing Practice; and “Madness” is self-explanatory.
As the years go by, with the Burden Company carrying on its endless rehearsals for that almost mythic performance of “Streetcar,” it’s only natural that they would wonder how things are going with old Stella, down there in South America, and why she left in the first place. In time, some ensemble members begin to tackle their own existential questions — like what the hell they’ve been doing with their pathetic lives. But 35 years after Stella Burden dropped out, her followers are still sticking it out, teaching the Approach to a new generation of actors and trying not to despair.
Ridiculous as it may seem to civilians, there’s something sweet and brave about that commitment to a theatrical ideal, something that would surely be understood by any company south of 14th Street.