I’m a Method Gun glutton. I saw the Rude Mechs troupe when they came to New Haven four months ago. Last week I flew clear across the country and, amid oodles of other theatergoing delights, I sought the show out again.
It’s an intoxicating piece, a sort of post-modern American Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead, all about trust, hope and education and imminent doom, with big laughs and many downer momemts.
The show’s well worth a second look. But I was most curious about how it would play before a flashy opening night crowd at the fancy Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City in summertime versus how it went over back in bitter February at the Yale Repertory Theatre.
Both times, the decidedly domestic Method Gun was billed as part of offbeat international theater series: Yale’s No Boundaries (“a series of global performances”) and L.A.’s Radar Festival (“an international festival of contemporary theater”). Nothin’ particularly global or international about this claustraphobic cluster of leiisurely theatermaking, unless you count that an unseen character is said to have fled to South America. But audiences accept it as a piece that takes you new places, and so it does.
The L.A. audience I saw last night seemed to arrive more prepared to laugh, while the Yale one I sat in on Feb. 25 was more expectant, up for whatever this multi-emotive company felt like unleashing. The air of folks waiting to be amused threw off some bittersweet moments near the beginning of the slow-building play.
The Yale audience had enough Yale School of Drama students in it to turn The Method Gun’s inside jokes about Stanislavski or Stella Adler into some of the night’s big collective laughs, while L.A. roared at the sociopolitically incorrect prospect of white, perky, ponytailed actress Hannah Kenah spouting Spanish as “the Mexican Woman” who sells flowers late in A Streetcar Named Desire. In New Haven, the laugh was bigger when Kenah portrayed “Colored Woman” elsewhere in the show-within-a-show. In both locations, laughs at any performance of Method Gun are going to be skewed by how many people in the audience have produced Streetcar themselves and choose to let you know that by laughing more loudly and knowingly than anyone else.
Stage lighting made a huge difference in how a pivotal dance to that schmaltzy‘70s AM pop hit “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest went over. (I won’t reveal the choreographic details of that bit, since it’s plenty revealing and uplifting itself). It was uproarious both places, but darker and more mysterious in L.A.; literally dark for such a buoyant moment.
The show’s full of sight gags and surprises which I was pleased to find can still excite on a second viewing. Then there are the quirks of live performances. I don’t remember Lana Lesley misspelling “MADNESS (as “MANDESS”) in chalk on the floor at the Yale Rep, as she did at the Kirk Douglas, and it was fun watching whether her co-stars would try to cover up her gaffe.
I regularly see cool shows more than once, but seldom do I get the chance to check how they play to audiences in such far-flung communities, especially when done by such an audience-aware show as The Method Gun. Again, without giving anything away, the audience has a stake in how the show ends. In L.A. some audience choices were primed to amuse, and brought eruptions of laughter. In New Haven, there was more of a ceremonial caste to the show’s wall-projection coda.
The Method Gun isn’t a firmly fixed and impermeable show. It acknowledges its audience and interacts with them fearlessly; when somebody in the balcony didn’t have a pencil with which to write down the name of her “guru,” as instructed at the show’s outset, actor E. Jason Liebrecht made a couple of attempts to toss her the writing implement before rushing up the stairs and delivering it personally. The Rude Mechs company works an openness and familiarity into their often off-putting work.
The overall sensation I got from reacting to The Method Gun going off on opposite coasts of the U.S. is akin to seeing a scrappy indie rock band do the same set in a college-town club and then in a record-industry hotspot. Same set, same energy, same pace, same banter with fans. But one was more atmospheric and the other more of a showcase. Luckily, The Method Gun’s target audience allows for both, and it hit the mark both times.