Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Field Guide
Yale Repertory Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's review of Love Letters and Fred's reviews of Constellations and Office Hour


The Cast of Field Guide
Photo by Joan Marcus
Field Guide is a blazingly imaginative 80-minute play/performance piece. A project inspired by Fyodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov," Rude Mechs theater group brings this world premiere to Yale Repertory where it continues through February 17th. For the most part, the bizarre yet supremely inventive work demonstrates the potential realized when an arts collective commits to making live theater happen. Not every moment is captivating nor does each sequence work but most stretches are special. Both process and product should be applauded.

The contingent, from Austin, Texas, provides Dostoevsky characters: Fyodor (Lowell Bartholomee) is large, round, and loud-mouthed. Fyodor is something of a blowhard, a man who has married twice and is far from shy with his opinions. As a dad, he is not particularly kind to his offspring. All of the sons, it seems, would be pleased if he were no longer alive.

Ivan (Thomas Graves) is one of his sons, a bearded, lanky man who professes to write poetry but is actually more of a philosopher. One of the less favorable sequences of the evening finds him reading from his own poem entitled "The Grand Inquisitor." Dmitri (Lana Lesley) is the eldest son and he spends much of his time speaking of his love for Grushenka (Hannah Kenah). Grushenka likes men. Alyosha (Mari Akita) is graceful, likable, and drawn to religion. She dances exquisitely. Smerdyakov (Robert S. Fisher) has little impact upon the goings-on. He is an illegitimate son of Fyodor.

The company of Rude Mechs work together to craft a unique show. Hannah Kenah (credited with text writing) effectively plays Grigory, Katya, and Grushenka. As Katya, she opens the performance with stand-up remarks, humor and advisories as she appears down stage with a microphone.

Yale Rep commissioned this piece and the troupe members collaborate in development. It has taken three years. Shawn Sides directs Field Guide which is mind-expanding, experimental and sometimes surreal. For example, each actor enters the stage from the same side theater door wearing white, puffy winter coats. A couple of times, later on, a great big comic bear joins the proceedings. The bear gets to wield a mike and says, "We were raised to argue." The costuming, by Sarah Woodham, is a huge asset as is music provided by Graham Reynolds. Robert S. Fisher's sound delivery, too, is pivotal. Eric Dyer's set might appear to be simple but it is quite appropriate. Dyer includes geometric pieces which are designed to move about.

You might wonder whether it is essential to have mastery over the 975 page novel beforehand. No, but it helps, perhaps, to have a basic sense of the characters. The production bids that a theatergoer enter with an open mind. The show is, to wildly understate, innovative. It demands that actors be physical since this is far from a words-only production. While it includes surprising if not startling choices, nothing is haphazard. For Field Guide, method fuses with imagination.

Rude Mechs was formed in 1996 and the result is 30 works. The creative team and acting ensemble include seasoned individuals. They are not adapting Dostoevsky. The Russian author wrote his massive book when he was older and it delves into the existence of God and much more. It isn't possible or wise to attempt to replicate all. Instead, the play dips into the novel and extracts people and circumstances. The artistic journey leads to further exploration.

Without spoiling artistic revelation, suffice to say that the final scenes of Field Guide shift into a peaceful and then lighter, more optimistic direction. This spin leans toward hope for more meaningful existence.

Field Guide, through February 17, 2018, at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.


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