BWW Review: FIELD GUIDE is an Excitingly Experimental Evening
FIELD GUIDE, a work-in-progress by Rude Mechs, is currently in a second draft performance at the Off Center. Rude Mechs creates new works collaboratively, and with FIELD GUIDE they are actively engaging their audience to get feed back on what works and what doesn't in order to help shape the piece. FIELD GUIDE, commissioned by the Yale Repertory Theatre, is a mash-up of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, stand-up comedy, dance and some frankly uncomfortable direct audience addressing confessions. How much of the direct confessions are fact or fiction we'll never really know. What we do know is this is an excitingly different evening of pure theatricality... an evening that you, as an audience member, are being asked to help define.
Along the way during your 90 minute journey the Mechs cover topics from the longest Russian novel written such as intellectualism, spiritualism, sensuality and hedonism. While it is ostensibly an adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov, it really just uses the characters in the briefest Cliff Notes sense. This approach allows the performers to riff on the underlying themes present. There is even an unaccredited moment by Sheldon Harnick when Robert S. Fisher performs "Merry Little Minuet". What you are treated to is highly experimental in nature and at moments what ensues is truly magical.
Shawn Sides has done a great job directing the piece and I particularly enjoyed the more manic moments of the piece. The skating section was riotously funny, especially Hannah Kenah on the rolling box.
Speaking of the manic moments (of which there are many), these are what really work best in the piece. While the stand-up moments are interesting, I felt those really only worked when it was Dostoevsky's characters doing the stand-up rather than the actors. The fact that sometimes it was the actors and other times it was the characters added to confusion. The company noted that, while making the piece to examine "how to be a good person, or how to live the best life possible" that it was hard to dramatize spiritual longing... yet they have come closer to that than the film adaptations ever did. Perhaps shaping that quality inside the character's stand-up moments might help further define that.
The technical aspects of this show are as much characters in the piece as the actors. Eric Dyer's cardboard take on a unit set is quite wonderful in how mutable it is and the scenic changes alone are worth the price of admission. The same must be said of Eva Claycomb's whimsical cardboard props. Brian H. Scott has lit the piece with a manic palette to convey mood that works brilliantly and may be one of the most consistently effective uses of the new LED stage lights I have seen. The choreography by Mari Akita and Vaslav Najisky is an absolute joy to watch. Graham Reynolds has created an original score that works for the piece in every moment from manic to somber and Robert S. Fisher's sound design is delightfully over the top.
The cast here are all remarkable performers: Mari Akita does some stunning physical movement; Lowell Bartholomee and Robert S. Fisher are perfect as Fyodor and Smerdyakov, respectively; Thomas Graves is excellent as Ivan; Hannah Kenah is hilariously funny as both Alexei and Grushenka and Lana Lesley is deadpan perfection as Dmitri.
In the final analysis, FIELD GUIDE doesn't really answer any questions, but rather raises one. Can one adapt something as sprawling as a Russian novel about spiritual longing as a theatre piece? This draft has come pretty close. The Rude Mechs take chances to create things that are different and to be invited to be part of their process is something that Austin audiences should be lining up for. This is a gloriously experimental, energizing evening of theatre... and I, for one, can't wait to see the next draft.
Creative Team: Mari Akita, Lowell Bartholomee, Kenny Chilton, Eva Claycomb, Madge Darlington, Eric Dyer, Robert Fisher, Aaron Flynn, Thomas Graves, Kevin Jacaman, Nate Jackson, Alexa Kelly, Hannah Kenah, Lana Lesley, Kevin Long, Kirk Lynn, Graham Reynolds, Brian Scott, Shawn Sides, Dallas Tate.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
FIELD GUIDE, produced by Rude Mechs at The Off Center (2211 Hidalgo Street, Austin, TX). April 07 - April 30, 2016.
Thursday - Sunday at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $25 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tickets are Sliding Scale $5 to $25 on Thursdays and Sundays.