Review: CL(100)49(P) by Rude Mechs
by Michael Meigs

The Rude Mechanicals ran a workshop performance of some of a new and as yet unnamed piece last Friday at their Off Center stage behind Joe's Bakery in east Austin.  They charged nothing to attend the single staging, but prospective attendees had to sign up through an on-line service for the gratis tickets.  All available seats were reserved well ahead of time.  

The printed program was enigmatic, a single sheet with unexplained designs thrust into the Rudes' generic promo program. The cheerful woman  onstage assured us that the Rudes looked forward to our feedback in response to the staging, so tentative in nature that it didn't yet have a real title.   "We've had only one tech rehearsal, so it may be a bit rough."  She pointed to a low table to our left, along the wall.  "But we have cupcakes for you afterwards, and there are plenty of them!  And remember, it's free!"

Was this don't-bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you? Probably not, since the evening had been publicized by e-mail blast to the Rudes' devotees.  After 50 minutes, when the action had stopped abruptly and without further communication from the company, the devotees descended upon the goodies.  I scored a delicious maple-flavored concoction with towering cream swirls, the consumption of which prevented me from scratching my head in puzzlement.

Was that it?  Was there more to come?  We weren't receiving any of the normal courtesies or subtle counseling usually provided to an audience.  The cupcake eaters were hanging around and socializing, some were scrutinizing an enigmatic message posted on a set, drinks were for sale outside at the ticket kiosk.

We'd just sat through scenes that introduced the self-assured young woman Oedipa Maas, her thick-bellied older husband the radio announcer and former real estate agent, a mysterious caller from Mexico using quirky accents, and Oedipa's psychotherapist who telephoned in the middle of the night with the tenacity of a stalker.  Lana Lesley came striding on from time to time to narrate.  We learned that some gringo entrepreneur who virtually owned an obscure Mexican town along with its businesses and services had named Oedipa the executor of his estate.  She went on a road trip, stopped at a vaguely sleazy, vaguely menacing motel with a clerk resembling a refugee from cartoon land.  There she met a handsome lawyer too handsome to be a lawyer, engaged in a one-sided game of strip-twenty-questions, made and won a bet, danced a vigorous seduction with him, went with him to a bar run by Lowell Bartolomee as a devotee of an obscure Confederate cult, and then disappeared.


The appealingly whimsical Hannah Kenah portrayed Oedipa.  The sequence inevitably reminded one of a video game, both for the thinness of its plot and for the puzzlers posed to the audience as  Oedipa encountered  tasks to accomplish.  Three times,  screens flashed the message Your Instructions Needed and a count-down clock appeared.  Audience members called out suggestions.  Kenah listened attentively, responding with comments and attempted action, until the problem was solved, each time well within the time limit.

Oedipa's  dance and seduction of the lawyer (Thomas Graves?) was a tightly choreographed comic number featuring unexpected somersalts, backflips, suspensions and suggestive bed creaking.  

CL(1000)49(P) (we know -- not its eventual real name) is in its current state a collection of scenes that appear to spin out more or less well the inspirations of a directionless brainstorming session.  Characters are sketchy and sketched, for the most part making no claim on our emotions or sympathy.  The principal effort is to provide the audience with amusing quirkiness.  It wasn't clear where the Rudes where going with this or why we should care.

One understands that this cake hasn't yet been baked.  A central feature of the Rudes' methodology is to run their creative imaginings repeatedly with different audiences and different creative participants until somehow the scenes coalesce.  Surely that was the approach with The Method Gun with its reductio ad absurdum both of Tennessee Williams and of method acting techniques.  It has visibly been the approach with I've Never Been So Happy, the cornball Western musical hammered out piecewise over the past three years and finally scheduled to premiere this coming April.

So we'll hang loose and ready, envying the Rudes their success in marketing and grantsmanship while appreciating their dedication and their vivid senses of humor.  Can they make us care about Oedipa?  Can they seduce the Millennials with their participatory challenges?  Can they lure you into their Oyster Club?   The clock is ticking but they've given themselves an undefined length of time to do so . . . .



Click to view program for CLP(1000)49(P) workshop by the Rude Mechanicals


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by Rude Mechs ensemble
Rude Mechs

December 09 - December 12, 2010
Off Center
2211-A Hidalgo Street
near Robert Martinez and E. 7th Street, behind Joe's Bakery
Austin, TX, 78702