Rude Mechs Reach Drama Nirvana

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Local virtuosos of experimental theatre, The Rude Mechanicals (Rude Mechs), presented their latest play, “Stop Hitting Yourself,” as part of the Fusebox Festival Machine Shop Series.

The play’s brilliance can be highlighted even before mentioning the hilarious cast performances; you could discuss the play’s brazenly showy aesthetics for hours.

With a set overflowing with golden adornments, a shimmering piano that would make Elton John or Lady Gaga green with an envy, and even a queso fountain, “Stop Hitting Yourself” invited audiences into a mystifying world of overindulgence. However, the show’s genius is truly realized once this wonderfully hammy setting meets its wonderfully bizzaro inhabitants.

“Stop Hitting Yourself” features a colorful cast: a radical thinker, a get-rich-quick schemer, a multiple personalitied ingenue, and the horribly wealthy elite. The flaws of many characters gradually reveal themselves throughout the play, mutating into unnerving caricatures of the 1 percent before exposing a surprising dose of humanity.

It’s this stellar sense of irony that makes “Stop Hitting Yourself” such a mystical feast for the senses; you can feel the irony swinging from the chandelier, pouring from the queso fountain, cascading down the bright backdrop.

On paper, “Stop Hitting Yourself” definitely reads like a social critique on modern themes of greed and corruption. Characters such as Twin Sister (Hannah Kenah) and Socialite (Lana Lesley) parade around stage spewing unabashedly hedonistic food for thought. But unlike the messy queso fountain sitting pretty in the background, these insights are anything but intellectual mush.

Overall, “Stop Hitting Yourself” is amplified by the absurdity found in the plot. In this well-written, Pygmalion-esque tale, Socialite takes it upon herself to turn Wildman (Thomas Graves) into a civilized gentleman, like her husband (Jason Liebrecht), but not.

However, the Wildman has ulterior motives; he hopes to rise to prominence to garner the one good deed of the year from the Queen (Paul Soileau). With her monarchical assistance, the Wildman hopes to make the world a more environmentally-conscious place.

Elsewhere, Fake Prince (Matt Hislope) bursts onto the scene in the play’s most acrobatic number, belting an ode to narcissism. Like the Wildman, Fake Prince has his own slew of ulterior motives. But quite unlike the Wildman, Fake Prince’s concerns are more concerned with his own monetary gain than the well-being of the human race.

Standout moments include the monologues in between scenes where the cast delivers hilarious asides to the audience about their everyday lives. These stories range from confessional tales of infidelity, to existential musings, to sly jabs at Austinites partying on the East Side.

The lines between reality and fantasy are further blurred during these monologues, for it’s unclear whether the cast is in or out of character. Moreover, the cast never takes their eyes off the audience, assuring you that this theatrical masterclass is not a gift, but an experience to be shared.

The most memorably hilarious achievement of the play is Paul Soileau’s manic performance as the Queen. With a glorified five o’clock shadow and a regal flower crown, the Queen’s hedonistic love of glamor and deviance steals the show. Soileau’s electric comedic acting elevates his drag performance to another level. And his scene stealing line? “Everything I do is fun.”

Also, “Stop Hitting Yourself” features eerie synchronized tap dance breaks that are at once playful and devilish, a sentiment that is further solidified with a concluding routine that defies all standards of theatrical realism.

With “Stop Hitting Yourself” the Rude Mechanicals have once again stretched the boundaries of theatrics, hitting on modern issues of individualism, greed, and the absurdity in the mundane.

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