THE METHOD GUN and the “other” Stella

by Ruth K. Brown

The Live Arts Festival as part of Philly Fringe is giving audiences a lot of think about with their production of THE METHOD GUN. To start at the beginning, there is a need to understand “the two Stellas”. Most performance artists are familiar with the name Stella Adler. This original “Stella” founded and ran a very successful acting studio giving the world Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel to name only a few of actors trained to approach performance study as Adler believed it must be. However, in truth, there are myriad schools of thought around acting and each one is taught as being “the one to use” for best results.

Members of the cast of THE METHOD GUN: Hannah Kenah, Lana Lesley, Jason Liebrecht, Thomas Graves. (Photo credit: Alan Simons)

The Rude Mechs took the audience at The Wilma Theater on a wild ride to explore the vagaries of the life and style of the “other Stella” … Stella Burden, an obscure teaching figure of the 50’s and 60’s with an perspective around the craft of acting called “The Approach”. The Rude Mechs began in 1995 as a group to support what can best be referred to as absurd theatrical endeavors through workshops, a collaborative working venue in Austin, Texas, and touring with the work they develop both nationally and abroad. The definition of “absurd” as used here is the abandonment of conventional dramatic form to portray the futility of human struggle in a senseless world. The Rude Mechs absorbed Burden’s series of performance exercises exploring sex, violence and even death in the most mundane aspects of training. Probably the most dangerous of these exercises was THE METHOD GUN. Yes, there is a gun. Yes, the gun is onstage. Yes, the gun is fired. Is it loaded with blanks? Ah, THAT is the question!

THE METHOD GUN as performed is a pastiche of travel, reading, performance and interview experiences around Stella Burden. Rude Mechs present the audience with an interpretive view of a Stella Burden-picked cast of actors rehearsing for a one-time performance of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE without using the characters of Stella, Stanley, Blanche or Mitch. That alone is a totally absurd concept of theater. However, the Rude Mechs concept is not on what the Tennessee Williams play has to say but rather on how the actors work to develop their minor characters using “The Approach” while simultaneously mourning the loss of their mentor and guide and questioning continuing. The combinations of action and sound as created and directed by Shawn Sides generally complemented the stage action except when the music was too loud and language was lost. An overhead projector (very 70’s!) and crudely written slides help to maintain the timeline as these complex situations unfold into the one-time production.

A play within a play within a play… can be confusing and sometimes was but not enough to lose audience interest. Initial entry into the space at The Wilma Theater brought the audience face-to-face with a taped and chalked floor and a rehearsal space replete with props and set pieces (including a bird cage with a loaded gun hanging inside), shooting targets, a pacing, impatient group of actors and the strains of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head”, “Alfie” and “If It Takes Forever, I Will Wait For You” from the rehearsal piano. The Rude Mechs then come center stage and the work begins in earnest.

THE METHOD GUN uses several of Stella Burden’s exercises, and they are expertly portrayed by this ensemble cast. Simple (yet a bit yucky) exercises around group kissing and group crying gradually build into a chalked out floor matrix with words like HORSE, DESPAIR, JOY and PROFANE VULGARITY allowing the actors to express that word in their own way moving around the matrix. Interspersed among these Burden exercises are snippets of the rehearsals for the A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE production and segments of information about Stella Burden, her disappearance and unresolved death. Even with the explanation as provided, this reviewer is still not certain what the exercise, Snakes on a String, was to demonstrate.

The complexity and danger so interwoven into this piece are reiterated as the truncated version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE is performed with the actors moving through a landscape that physically mirrors the dangers encountered by using “The Approach”. It was frightening, breathtaking and yet, very compelling.

THE METHOD GUN is a self-indulgent walk on an actor’s wild side. Decisions to follow Stella Burden acting teachings and “The Approach” will garner bruises for sure; watching THE METHOD GUN as part of Live Arts Festival at Philly Fringe will garner you laughs, things unexpected and a very thought-provoking evening of theater.

Written by Kirk Lynn
Directed by Shawn Sides
September 2-8, 2011
The Wilma Theater
237 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA

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