Review: "Field Guide" at Yale Repertory Theatre

Tara Kennedy

  • OnStage Chief Connecticut Theatre Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle

Yale Repertory Theatre welcomes back Austin, Texas’ cutting-edge performance group, Rude Mechs, to perform their latest work. They have performed works at the Yale Rep before in their “No Boundaries” performance series. One of these pieces – The Method Gun – is about a production of A Streetcar Named Desire without any of its main characters. With Field Guide, the group takes on Dostoyevsky.

Loosely based around the main plot line of Dostoyevsky’s last work, The Brothers Karamazov, this 75-minute performance narrates the story of the three brothers and their varying outlooks on life: Dmitri the sensualist; Ivan the intellectual; and Alyosha the monk, all under the rule of their gluttonous father, Fyodor.  During the performance, the brothers’ outlooks and ethical arguments are explored in unconventional ways and I struggled to understand some of the elements used to tell this story.  Frankly, I was perplexed as to what it even was. It isn’t a play, albeit some of it did narrate a story. But there was also dance performance… stand-up comedy by a self-deprecating bear… self-mobilized, choreographed set pieces that turned into a hot tub... and a bouncy castle.

Dudes. I am a smart, open-minded woman and I was lost.

So, when faced with a puzzle, I go back to basics. What ideas are the artists of this piece trying to communicate? Being an art history major, my mind went straight to art movements. I thought of the early 20th century Dadaists: their rejection of bourgeois culture and focus on the spontaneity of art did fit somewhat within the parameters of this piece. It certainly seemed as unplanned as the Dada poetry of Tristan Tzara. Maybe it’s more Surrealist? Tossing rational thought out the window in favor of the absurd? Then I thought about it as a “happening,” an unconventional performance of disconnected events, which this piece certainly was, albeit without the audience participation part that is usually found in those type of events.

According to their organizational history, the Rude Mechs “…has created a genre-averse slate of original theatrical productions peppered with big ideas, cheap laughs, and dizzying spectacle. What these works hold in common are the use of play to make performance… and the use of humor as a tool for intellectual investigation.” While I appreciate their efforts toward this lofty goal, it felt fragmented and unfinished. Improvised, but not in a way that was approachable. There were parts I enjoyed – such as the dance pieces, especially the pas de deux between Dmitri and Grushenka – but I wished for something more accessible. There were moments of clarity, but then it would veer off and make me ask, “Why?” Ultimately, that is the question: Why this art? Unfortunately, it leaves me with no answer, except to presume absurdity for absurdity’s sake. If that’s your thing, go see Field Guide. If not, I recommend the Cliff Notes.

From left, Lowell Bartholomee, Hannah Kenah, Mari Akita, Robert S. Fisher and Thomas Graves in “Field Guide.” (Joan Marcus)