Playing Around With the Evil Empire

The Rudes go Russian with '300 Plays About Vladimir Putin'

Rude Mechanicals. The name is redolent with irreverence, and while the "mechanical" part may throw you, it doesn't if you understand the Shakespeare reference, but never mind that. Really, it's just a cool moniker. The same goes for the Off Center, their performance home. If you know that the Rudes perform at the Off Center, then you really know almost everything you need to know about this brash and sassy bunch. Except maybe that they toured their original stage adaptation of Lipstick Traces, based on Greil Marcus' groundbreaking history of punk, around the entire country and over to Germany, and how many Austin theatre companies can say that?

In their best rude-ish hey-let's-put-on-a-play spirit, the Rudes now present Austin with a play -- well, with a performance piece -- umm -- a performance collage, let's say, because, sure, it's a play, but it's more than a play, it's ... 300 plays. (Actually, it isn't, but bear with me.) "I wasn't around for the inception of the idea for this show," says Robert Fisher, director of 300 Plays About Vladimir Putin. "The idea belongs to Rude company member Jose Hernandez. During the Lipstick Traces tour, someone mentioned a news article about Vladimir Putin, and someone else mentioned that it was a very funny-sounding name, that it was very reminiscent of flatulence, and someone else had recently seen [the film] 13 Conversations About One Thing."

So out from the Off Center went a call for plays, which had to fit certain guidelines, like: "This is a hoax," "Just when things get going: curtain," and, "Each scene a taste. Let some other art be a meal."

"We got around 60 plays," says Fisher, "and some of the similarities between them were amazing. The major themes seemed to come out of a propagandist viewpoint. Particularly after the fall of communism, the idea of Evil Empire became kind of our pop culture take on Russia. One of the pieces toward the end is very much about our need to have an enemy and what kind of enemy we had versus what kind of enemy we have now. Which, to me, really encapsulates the whole."

Putin is part of the Rudes' Second Stage series, which features company members doing low- and no-budget productions. But don't say that to Fisher. "Putin the play is a work in progress, but it's being fully realized in production. We have a live band, props, and costumes. If we had more money, we'd make it bigger and shinier, but as it is, it's a complete work."

"Complete" is an excellent way to describe the script, which reads very much like it's penned by a single scribe. "I didn't use any filler material," says Fisher, "except for an occasional line connecting one thing to the next. So, within the text of the play, there are a few plays that happen in their entirety, but then there are plays that occur in pieces. We're still playing around with it."

Playing around? The Rude Mechanicals playing around? Actors like Lana Lesley, Lowell Bartholomee, and Judson Jones just playing around? A couple of dozen playwrights, including Cyndi Williams and Steve Moore, supplying raw material for Robert Fisher to play around with?

Hey! Maybe there's something to this playing around stuff. end story

300 Plays About Vladimir Putin runs Dec. 11-20, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8pm, at the Off Center, 2211-A Hidalgo. For information, call 476-RUDE or visit

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new plays, 300 Plays About Vladimir Putin, Rude Mechanicals, Robert Fisher, Jose Hernandez, Lipstick Traces, Lana Lesley, Lowell Bartholomee, Judson Jones, Cyndi Williams, Steve Moore

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