The description of “The Method Gun” on the ontheboards website reads as follows: “The Method Gun explores the life and techniques of Stella Burden, the actor-training guru of the 60s and 70s and creator of “The Approach” (referred to as “the most dangerous acting technique in the world”), which fused Western acting methods with risk-based rituals to infuse even the smallest role with sex, death, and violence. Using found text from the journals and performance reports of Burden’s company, The Method Gun reenacts the final months of her company’s rehearsals for their nine-years-in-the-making production of A Streetcar Named Desire.” So, understandably I had certain expectations. I actually asked someone on the second floor of CFA if they new who Stella Burton was because I felt like I was probably supposed to know. They didn’t know either.
So I began watching this narrative style show taking everything these actors were saying at face value. I thought this was a group of actors pretending to be a group of actors who had actually really existed. The premise is that they are putting on a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire, but without the characters Stanley, Stella, Mitch or Blanche. Sure, it sounds weird, but not necessarily the weirdest idea for a show that I’ve ever heard. Then the company starts describing some of the exercises Stella would have her own company perform. For example, there’s crying practice, where all the actors stand silently in a line and try to make themselves cry, then there’s kissing practice, where they line up and take turns kissing one another. Although the exercises are comical to watch, they aren’t completely off base. So it wasn’t exactly the premise of the acting company or the zany methods they use that made me start to question the reality of the world, but more like a feeling that started creeping up that something wasn’t as it seemed. First of all, while the actors are rehearsing there is supposedly a loaded gun in a birdcage in the corner of the room, just to remind the actors that they are capable of killing one another. And the entire time, the attitude of the actors seems a little off. Like they’re all sharing a secret that the audience isn’t in on.
The structure of the show itself is scenes delineated by how long the company has until opening night. The set is pretty simple- a table and some chairs, a piano, an old-fashioned overhead projector, and that gun in the corner. The floor has exaggeratedly large, colorful spike tape- it’s literally the stuff you’re “not supposed to see” behind a production. Although there’s a fairly linear timeline, the show is also punctuated by events that are seemingly outside the world of “reality”, including a speaking tiger and men running around with balloons tied to their penises. By the end, I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t, so I had to just experience the play as it happened. There were moments of great humor, suspense, and sadness within The Method Gun. One of my favorite parts is that at the top of the show, the audience is asked to write down the name of their mentor on a piece of paper and hand it to the actors. At the end of the play, there is a slideshow of the names of people to which this show is dedicated, and we realize that it’s the names that the audience members contributed.
I purposely try not to research a show too much before I see it because I want to be able to have the experience without a lot of context first, and then layer in understanding later. So after I finished watching The Method Gun I decided to google Stella Burden, half expecting her to be real, half not. The first search item was a call for “research” on Stella Burden for the production of The Method Gun, and asked for submissions from people who had worked with her. Then I realized that all of the search results for Stella Burden were for this show, and that Stella Burden probably is not a real person. I love the idea that this company of actors created an alternate reality in order to share a story. It’s fairly obvious that Stella Burden is sort of a stand- in for Stella Adler, but not the same person. By establishing a “reality” and then exploding it, The Method Gun asks the question of what is truth, and is there a difference between truth once removed and truth four times removed? Is one more “valid” than the other? They pose the questions, but leave it to us to determine our own truth.