The premise of Rude Mechanicals' The Method Gun initially sounds a little mean-spirited. Conceived in tribute to the life and philosophies of obscure seventies acting guru Stella Burden, the production's various blurbs suggest a performance piece driven by the merciless skewering of the clichés and pretensions of actors at their most extravagant and indulgent.
Fortunately, The Method Gun is so much more than that description would imply. It's true – it's unlikely you will see a more hilarious or painfully accurate evisceration of acting and actors than Stella Burden's aimless, indulgent, bickering ensemble of performers ("Have you noticed how much I don't talk?" queries one actor, mid-argument, before the ensemble collectively practice crying).
The comedy of the piece, however, is not acerbic or insulting – but warm and self-effacing. Furthermore, the comedy of the piece cannot disguise the ornately inventive brilliance of its narrative structure or the surprisingly emotionally affecting themes that begin to emerge through the progression of the piece.
Ostensibly, the work chronicles the nine years Burden's ensemble spent rehearsing their final production (a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire without any of the main four characters) following Burden's spontaneous and unexplained disappearance to South America. If that sounds absurd, it is – in all of the best ways – but the premise pays off in truly unpredictable ways.
Trepanning through the years with fantastically surreal detours (a talking tiger frequently interrupts the production for no apparent reason and, at one point, two males characters dance naked through the studio, each with a number of helium balloons tied to their body), The Method Gun starts out hilarious but grows more and more emotional as time progresses.
This arc is made possible by the wonderful characters. Rude Mechanicals sincerely consider and document the insane struggle, deeply emotional and thoroughly personal expense inherent to an artistic process – refusing to prioritise comedy over pathos. A reunion of Burden's cast thirty years after the fact is played straight – and subsequently moves at least one audience member to tears.
The culmination of the piece, meanwhile, is breathtaking. Breathtaking could be an understatement. Weaving together all of the frustrated beauty, genius, comedy, insanity, violence and love of the entire production into fifteen minutes of sustained transcendence, The Method Gun concludes so fantastically you genuinely fear you'll never see anything so exquisitely human ever again.
Rude Mechanicals present
The Method Gun
Venue: Visy Theatre | Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 22 - 26 Feb, 2012
Tickets: $30 | Concession $25
Part of the 2012 World Theatre Festival