The first thing I thought when I sat down in the Imago Theatre last night to see the Rude Mechs show The Method Gun was how completely familiar the aesthetic is. The ill-fitting clothes, the thrift-store vintage chic, the stripped stage and restless, faux-casual movements of the actors as the crowd filtered in: it’s so much a part of what contemporary performance (and especially theater) looks like these days.

The same goes for the meta-self-conscious structure of the play, in which five actors (there is also a recurring tiger motif; what IS it with animal mascots in recent years?) portray themselves and characters who are also actors laboring to fulfill the dictates of their legendary, disappeared director-guru. They have been rehearsing for years. Their task is to reimagine A Streetcar Named Desire, sans any of the main characters.

“Help us be emotionally honest—at least in little bursts,” one of the performers proclaims to whatever gods she honors. Is she talking to herself, herself playing herself, or whatever is behind door number three?

In any case, she is speaking an absolutely conventional language. This isn’t a bad thing; I only wish we could stop calling work like this experimental or boundary-pushing or whatever. It’s simply contemporary and as much a part of a tradition as the ballet or landscape painting.

I wish we could do this because I think it would allow us to be clearer eyed about our responses to it. We couldn’t hide behind dismissive (whether admiring or irritated) phrases like “Oh it’s just so weird and out there and blah blah blah.” We’d have to do better than that, work harder. And so would the artists. (I feel the same when certain artists get lionized as geniuses … what does that word even mean?)

I was thinking about working harder (well, I guess this is a theme of mine at tba11) during and after The Method Gun, which had some witty and lovely moments but all-in-all left me feeling rather deflated. It was all so easy in its manic, loosely spun thoughts on what it is to try at creating, to try and to sometimes fail or maybe always fail but to go after that glittering thing you don’t yet know how to describe. That’s a big and a gorgeous and a worthy subject, and it’s one that a company might well fail at. I just …want them to fail better.

There was a gun. True to Chekhov’s dictate it was fired. It fired blanks.

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