By the time the actor in the bear costume faces the audience and commences his stand-up routine about his disapproving father, you may start to eye the Yale Rep exits. But knowing you are at New Haven’s “bold and adventurous theatre”, the talking bear should be the least of the surprises found in “Field Guide”, a world premiere production created by Rude Mechs and inspired by no less than Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”. Only at Yale, folks.
Rude Mechs is a unique, Texas-based theatre collective whose company members are all involved with the creation of their original theatre projects which includes the new “Field Guide”. Using the Dostoevsky classic as its blueprint, the troupe begins its anything goes approach with a game, gender-switching cast and a scenic design (by Eric Dyer) that includes some “Mummenschantz” inspired geometric boxes that seem to have a life of their own. The play begins with a delightfully droll monologue by Hannah Kenah who attempts to set the stage for what follows. The basic characters from “The Brothers Karamazov” are then introduced and include father Fyodor (Lowell Bartholomee) and brothers Dmitri (Lana Lesley), Ivan (Thomas Graves), Alyosha (Mari Akita) and Smerdyakov, the bastard (Robert S. Fisher).
The play starts strong with its go-for-broke performances and Shawn Sides’ creative direction (those moving boxes). Soon, however, it devolves into a crazy quilt of non-linear plotting and extended scenes that quickly become tiresome and test the patience. Tedious sections of the play go well beyond their sell date specifically an endless performance piece of what I can only describe as Kabuki expressionism as well as a rather dull pas de deux between Dmitri and his lady love, Grushenka (Ms. Kenah). Talent to burn is always on display, but to what end? It would be great to report that this approach to the Russian classic helped to illuminate the novel’s greater themes, but that seems to have eluded the creators.
Mr. Dyer’s scenic design includes a shocking red scalloped drape in front as well as a gorgeous “last supper” set revealed late in the play. The sound (Robert S. Fisher), lighting (Brian H. Scott) and original music (Graham Reynolds) is all in absolute tandem with the universe that Rude Mechs has created here. I am always grateful that theatre like this exists and that Yale Rep is at the forefront of making it happen. That said and though the effort is sincere and the talent obvious in “Field Guide”, the eventual payoff is seriously lacking in New Haven.
“Field Guide” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through February 17, 2018. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.