By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
"Don't you see there's a revolution outside, it's 1905, the world is ending, all your 'love' and 'art' are nothing," one of them berates with pre-Soviet rage. At an opening-night party, Mark Murphy mockingly thanked the author for "telling us we shouldn't exist." Not only were the performances droll to perfection, the event contained the raw incendiary power of a bomb tossed into the art-loving crowd.
The Rude Mechs, from Austin, Texas, toyed with much the same idea in Kirk Lynn's The Method Gun. Directed by Shawn Sides, it profiled the Rude Mechs impersonating and documenting the decadelong process of a straggling company to stage A Streetcar Named Desire in the absence of its fictitious leader-teacher, Stella Burden (probably a parody of Stella Adler). The Burden Academy's Streetcar has inexplicably dropped all the play's central characters. The students, however, are blind to the absurdity of the venture, though their rendition did, when performed, start to make a certain, loopy sense.
Where Neva draws a vicious paradox, The Method Gun resorts to satire that lurches into parody: "Stella never quit working. She quit getting hired."
The Rude Mechs' performances (Thomas Graves, Hannah Kenah, Lana Lesley, E. Jason Liebrecht and Shawn Sides) were amiable beyond reproach, but with the Neva and Method Gun side by side, the shortcomings of the latter's glibness became as apparent as the sobering accomplishment of the former.
Now that the tornado of performances and conference has blown out of town, questions remain as to its impact. Will journalists from the NEA Institute, who created a "pop-up" newsroom called Engine28 — and some of whom did burst the bubble and take in Fringe events — relay their perceptions of L.A. to the rest of the country? Will the surreal and sometimes loopy style of foreign performance from Central and South America, brought to us by Radar L.A., break our entrenched wall of kitchen realism, which is starting to resemble a border wall?
Perhaps the biggest gift of the summer came from the L.A. Times, whose panel on the state of our theater (Broadway producers, a playwright and Tim Robbins talking about and to themselves) all but snubbed the small-theater community that produces 75 percent of the work here. Furthermore, after this neglect was made pointedly clear through aggrieved unanimously angry responses on the newspaper's own theater blog, the panel completely avoided audience questions — even those that had been solicited ahead of time.
After the panel left Zipper Hall, local theater makers lingered in a state of shock and dismay over the lucidity of how they'd been further disregarded. Let's just say it was a clarion, galvanizing call to action.
It's worth mentioning that the locally-based Latino Theater Company is taking its Radar attraction, "Solitude," on tour this summer to several venues in the Southwest and Mexico. It is a production that was developed through workshops. Most of its cast has been working together for 25 years.