I THOUGHT THE NEW YEAR WAS GRINDING OFF to its usual slow start until I stepped into the Walker Art Center for Rude Mechs’s The Method Gun, the first installment of this year’s Out There festival. The house was bustling with a gang’s-all-here vibe — actors, dancers, choreographers, directors, even writers piling up by the windows out which, when it’s light outside, you can see Jim Hodges’s Untitled, four big rocks in their own silent confab. Someone I respect criticized that sculpture, and I can see the critique: people-friendly and rather glam with their candy-colored steel-lacquered faces, Hodges’s rocks don’t challenge you. But I like their suggestion of pace. Every time I go to the Walker, those rocks are still exchanging their complex reflections, still listening. I imagine eventually they will come to an agreement and do something.
The audience wanted to love The Method Gun, so they did. I wasn’t so sure about it—too much a theater piece for me, maybe. That’s one of the mysteries of taste: I love dance but can’t abide most theater, particularly that which involves acting. Perhaps that’s why, in this show, I adore the tiger who erupts into the action—a not-terribly realistic tiger, with a faux-European accent, who argues for more tigers in theater, and asks us which we would rather see: Death of a Salesman or Death of a Salesman from a Tiger. “Let’s have some different kinds of plays!” the tiger exclaims. “Am I right?” Despite the feline interruption, though, The Method Gun doesn’t ultimately seem that different to me: its actorly breakdowns could use more tiger.
So, given my predilection, I have to recuse myself from an overall assessment of The Method Gun. I want to note, though, the role of dance in this show; whenever the normal needs transcending, dance (or a tiger) arises. Men dance about with clusters of helium balloons tied to their penises, skipping away their and our boredom. During a lecture-dem, the increasingly uncomfortable character finally asserts, “I want to dance,” and busts into a spazzy pop-lock that ends with a boomeranging roll of duct tape. The audience was delighted with both moments: dance, in a pedestrian context (and somehow the play does remain a pedestrian context), means escape, joy, life.
Maybe it didn’t matter that the risk was negligible; it was the world set in motion that mattered. Any pace is perilous, I guess.
One performer told a story about being asked to choose between truth and beauty. She polled the audience: truth won handily. (I have to wonder how this varies across audiences.) Truth was the answer, she told us, that she had also given—and it seemed, in the show’s terms, to be the correct answer, as the performers attempted to strip down layers of method b.s. to some real emotion, some real instinct. And yet The Method Gun works, if it does, by magic, which is surely closer to beauty than truth.
At the climax of the show, lights drop and swing low across the stage while a sped-up and ground-down version of the play goes on underneath them, stylized actions swinging back and forth in time to the pendulum swings of the lights. It didn’t look that dangerous to me: the lights are predictable, their paths marked with electrical tape, and the motions are rhythmic and fairly easy. But all around me people gasped at every swing. Maybe it didn’t matter that the risk was negligible; it was the world set in motion that mattered. Any pace is perilous, I guess.
Full disclosure: I voted for beauty. I still don’t know what the word means, how far it goes, whether it’s compatible with a politically responsible aesthetic. But maybe that is precisely why it draws me: maybe beauty lives in the magic, the mystery.
Noted performance details:
Rude Mechs presented The Method Gun, the first show in Out There 25: Reality/Identity/Myth, at the Walker Art Center January 10 through 13. The performance festival runs through February 2; find a full schedule of shows on the Walker’s website.
About the author: Originally from Tallahassee, Lightsey Darst is a poet, dance writer, and adjunct instructor at various Twin Cities colleges. Her manuscript Find the Girl was recently published by Coffee House; she has also been awarded a 2007 NEA Fellowship. She writes a weekly column on dance for mnartists.org.