Field Guide – Review by Tom Nissley

A world premiere that is not exactly a world premiere is playing at Yale Rep this month. It’s a delicious journey into the world of Dostoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ something like a students shortcut to understanding the plot and some dimensions of the long and complex novel. “FIELD GUIDE” is a production designed by Rude Mechs, an Austin, Texas collaborative that works to make theatrical stuff fun for its members and their audiences, and it was commissioned by Yale Rep Development and had its beginnings in readings at Yale several years ago. Since then it has been an experimental process that played in Austin and another location before returning to New Haven to put it on stage again.

And it does follow, loosely, the story of the Karamazov family as portrayed in the novel. Dmitri, the oldest of the brothers (Lana Lesley) begs his father (a huge and statuesque Lowell Bartholomee) for the money that was left him when his mother died, to no avail. He wants it so that he can continue to pursue Grushenka (Hannah Kenah). Alyosha (dancer Mari Akita) helps him but cannot save him from his bitterness.

Ivan (an eloquent and athletic Thomas Graves) is a scholar and lover of books. And Smerdyakov (Robert S. Fisher), the scarcely acknowledged brother, reduced to the status of servant, most of all adores and trusts Ivan and his musing about God and morality or the lack of it. That trust has unintended consequences.

Rude Mechs is an ENSEMBLE Company writ large. Much of their construction of the play is formed by collective collaboration, so the approach of stand-up comedy, or the Saturday Night Live effect of Dmitri rolling in on a coat rack, and the set which consists of large cardboard cartons that move and dance in their own ballet and also provide a structure in which the actors can play at times like kittens – all of that is determined by group-think.

I went running for Spark Outlines and Wikipedia after the performance, and that helped me understand how much the play rings true to ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ Hannah Kenah is credited with the text (and welcomes the audience with the first stand-up comedy routine). Some persons may be motivated to read the novel again.

“FIELD GUIDE” is a fun production, designed to be exactly that, with wonderful original music (Graham Reynolds) and sound design (Robert S. Fisher), sets designed by Eric Dyer, brilliant lighting by Brian H. Scott, intriguing costumes (Sarah Woodham). The production was directed by Shawn Sides.

Information or tickets can be arranged at www.YaleRep.org, or by calling 203-432-1234.

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre.

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