There are numerous outcomes for audience members when attending a dramatic presentation. These can include having belief systems challenged, to be imparted with new ideas, and to question our values and viewpoints. One essential ingredient for a production to be successful, however, is that the audience needs to be entertained and not scratching their heads trying to figure out what they are watching. In Yale Repertory Theatre’s Field Guide, more time is spent struggling to understand the action on stage then being engrossed with the work and what it has to offer about life, morality, and family relationships.
Field Guide, an adaptation by Rude Mechs, an Austin based group that collectively creates theatrical pieces, leads us through what is stated as a “surreal hike through one of the greatest—and longest!—novels ever written: “The Brothers Karamazov.” The start of the production is a bit off-beat—actors, who would not be out of place from the movie Ice Station Zebra, garbed in winter outer wear trudge up to the stage from a side exit door. From there we are treated to a lone actress in front of an unadorned curtain giving us ten minutes or so of passable stand-up comedy. Whatever symbolism or imagery this beginning represents was, well, lost on me.
From there, disregarding the comedic bear towards the end of the production and large cardboard-like boxes stuttering around the stage (think of playing in refrigerator or other appliance boxes when you were young), the play has some semblance of order and understanding as it introduces the main set of characters. There is the disagreeable and repugnant father Fyodor (Lowell Bartholomee), and his four sons—the self-styled and self-centered sage Ivan (Thomas Graves), the drunken rogue Dmitri (Lana Lesley), the religious zealot Alyosha (Mari Akita), and the misbegotten off-spring Smerdyakov (Robert S. Fisher). Add in the love interests of Grushenka and Katya (both played by Hannah Kenah) and you have the recipe for Russian angst, self-loathing and murder.
|Robert S. Fisher and Lowell Bartholomee in FIELD GUIDE created by Rude Mechs.|
Photo by Joan Marcus, 2018.
For audience members well-versed in the novel, the dreamlike nature of the show might be thought-provoking and appealing, but for those of us unfamiliar with the plot the 90-minute production seems a lot longer. Give credit to Rude Mechs for their innovative work and popularity—this is their third stint at Yale Rep—but they are an acquired taste that may be too much for the average theatergoer.
The acting and creative troupe, in their mannered personas and idiosyncratic portrayals, give their characters a unique complexity that is definable and individualistic. Sometimes they appear rather relaxed and indifferent, but that seems to be the vive of the production.
Director Shawn Sides is a drummer marching to his own beat, fitting the segments of this singular and avant-garde work together with a seemingly slapdash artistry. The overall effect is a somewhat baffling piece of theater.
To sum up, I quote a line from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, “And now for something completely different.” Field Guide, playing at Yale Repertory Theatre through February 18th.