The Method Gun, the work by Rude Mechs that’s currently opening the Walker Art Center’s 2013 Out There series, is a mockumentary-style tribute to the fictional theater guru Stella Burden. Like the films of Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind), The Method Gun both pokes fun at and pays tribute to its subject—in this case, collaboratively created theater.
Burden, we’re told by the Rude Mechs performers, was an American theater artist who developed a cult following in the 1960s, then abruptly disappeared in 1972, leaving her troupe in the midst of a nine-year rehearsal period (Burden believed in giving a production plenty of time to find itself) for the single 1975 performance of what was to be their final show: Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, performed without the characters Stanley, Stella, Blanche, or Mitch. The Method Gun includes descriptions of Burden’s method as well as recreations of both the rehearsals and performance of Streetcar.
The show’s title refers to a loaded pistol that Burden habitually kept in the rehearsal space “to remind us that we could all kill each other at any moment.” Just how literally she meant that is a question that becomes highly pertinent near the end of the show. It’s one of many absurd theatrical devices imagined by playwright Kirk Lynn and portrayed with energy and dry humor by the five (or six, depending on how you count) performers onstage. There’s a dance with packing tape, an all-cast crying practice, and an unforgettable moment involving nudity and helium balloons.
The Method Gun culminates in a vignette of virtuoso theatricality, precisely choreographed by director Shawn Sides. Like many shows selected by Walker curator Philip Bither for the Out There series in recent years, The Method Gun deconstructs theatrical devices with rapier wit; unlike some other troupes who have been in the series, though, Rude Mechs are gratifyingly willing to acknowledge why we’re all there in the first place. Whatever the method, when the magic of theater works, it works.
Correction: This review originally misidentified the fictional character Stella Burden as “Stella Adler.” This hopefully understandable error has been corrected.