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Field Guide

Nobody is special. Nothing is holy. Everyone's an asshole, just like me. I'm the only one brave enough to admit it. — Fyodor
field guide
Hanna Kenah and Thomas Graves (Photo: Joan Marcus)
The quote above begins Field Guide at Yale Rep, an antic dissertation on Dostoevsky's 1880 The Brothers Karamazov, that includes actors in bear suits. Deconstructing the great novel without actually illuminating it, the production was created by an Austin, Texas-based theater collective, Rude Mechs (a riff on the bumbling Rude Mechanicals in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream), who deserve credit for inventiveness if not for clarity. Audiences may come out scratching their heads although enjoying disjointed bits and pieces.

The novel with its levels of religion, psychology, family dynamics and politics revolves around the tyrannical Fyodor, patriarch of four sons: the rebellious Dmitry, the idealistic Ivan, the religious Alyosha and the trouble-making Smerdyakov.

All have a negative relationship with dear old dad and would love nothing better than having the s.o.b. croak. Which he does — assassinated, but by whom, since all have motivation? Is it Dmitri who's who's most like his pop? He yearns for Grushenka, is engaged to Katya, who's also desired by the intellectual, skeptical Ivank.

Could the killer be the resentful Smerdyakoven? It's certainly not Aylosha who spends time levitating, then dancing in an attempt to reach spirituality.

All of this is accomplished by stand-up comedy acts, a hot tub encounter and pithy remarks. We also get cardboard scenery (boxes, something that looks like a silo) that slithers about the stage, seemingly on their own. It's a funny bit.

Meanwhile, snippets of the novel demonstrate its brilliance. "We are all cruel / We are all monsters / We all make men weep and mothers, and babes at the breast." For Dostoyevsky, religion, politics and family help destroy the human spirit.

The cast, all except one Rude Mechs members, are so comfortable with the material and each other that they form a superb ensemble. Mari Akita's Alyosha, Lowelll Bartholomee's Fyodor, Robert S. Fisher's Smerdyakov and Lana Lesley's Dmitri are excellent. Hannah Kenah's is not only Grigory, Katya and Grushenka, she's hilarious as a stand-up comic. Of them all, Thomas Graves comes off best as Ivan, at least partly because his is the most rounded character.

For all its giddiness — buoyed by Eric Dyer's scenery and Sarah Woodham's witty costumes — Field Guide is directed by Shawn Sides with helter-skelter juvenility, matching the college humor level of Hannah Kenah's text. But the true, though underdeveloped sub-text is more 2018 than1880.

The program describes father Fyodor as "Twice-married decadent sponge, clawing his way up the landowning class ladder. A buffoon, loves to ridicule others. Prone to insolence, misogyny and greed. Women should be especially cautious when encountering him."

If that's not a clear reference to America's current ruling oligarchs, listen for the line, "How many Russian bears does it take to rig an American presidential election?"

Give Yale credit for world premiering a contemporary work of imagination. Those expecting an insight into The Brothers Karamazov will be unsatisfied. Those who throw caution to the winds will be amused. Possibly most theatergoers will be somewhere in the middle.

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Field Guide
Created by Rude Mechs
Text by Hannah Kenah
Directed by Shawn Sides
CAST: Mari Akita (Alyosha), Lowell Bartholomee (Fyodor), Robert S. Fisher (Smerdyakov), Thomas Graves (Ivan), Hannah Kenah (Grigory, Katya, Grushenka), Lana Lesley (Dmitri)
Scenic Design: Eric Dyer
Sound Design: Robert S. Fisher
Original Music: Graham Reynolds
Lighting Design: Brian H Scott
Costume Design: Sarah Woodham
Production Dramaturgy: Amy Boratko
Stage Management: Bianca A. Hooi
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet
Technical Direction: Steph Waaser
Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Yale Repertory Theater, New Haven, Conn. Jan. 26-Feb. 17, 2018
Reviewed Feb. 9, 2018

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