The Austin Chronicle

The Rude Mechs' Field Guide

There's much to ponder in the second draft of the company's mash-up of Dostoyevsky, stand-up comedy, and spiritual belief

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016, Arts

Let's get this out there first: Attending Field Guide is not like attending a play. It might seem like attending a play, and after seeing it, a lot of people will go and tell everyone, "I attended a play." But seeing the current run of the Rude Mechs' Field Guide is actually halfway between seeing a polished play and sitting in on a rehearsal.

The distinction is important because last Friday's performance of Field Guide wasn't up to the standards of the company's other works in later runs. But the company never said it would be. The program says this run of the show is a second draft, and the Rudes have provided a feedback form. That's not out of character for these artists, but when reviewing a work like this it's necessary to clarify where they say they are in the process, because the audience's intellectual experience should be different. Instead of trying to figure out what you think you saw, you're asked to think about what could be different.

In this case, the Rudes are asking what could be different about Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Various ingredients thrown into the blender include the Russian novel, film adaptations, stand-up comedy, the usual handful of simple dance numbers, and a set made out of cardboard (set designed by Eric Dyer, props from Eva Claycomb). They've set the blender to mix, and it's possible that a future production might have it set to purée, but at this point the chunks are all pretty discernible.

The production pulls some narrative elements from the novel: The father, Fyodor (Lowell Bartholomee), and his son Dmitri (Lana Lesley) are both chasing the same woman, Grushenka (Hannah Kenah), who has one of the better and more ridiculous wigs I've seen onstage (costumes by Aaron Flynn). Dmitri's brother Alexei (also Kenah), a spiritual man, is in deep with a local monk, and some other things are happening with his brothers Ivan (Thomas Graves), an intellectual atheist, and Smerdyakov (Robert S. Fisher), a basically nasty guy, regarding the eventual murder of their father. It's a sprawling novel, and right now the story involving Grushenka and Dmitri offers the most tangible grips.

The players interrupt the major flow of the production with some cool choices involving all that cardboard, and with occasional performances of stand-up comedy. The stand-up bits are delivered by the actors as themselves, as opposed to their characters. How much what they say about themselves is actually true is probably about equivalent to how much anything any comic says about herself during her act, which might be the point.

As an artistic challenge to the audience, the production is meaty. There are questions floating around concerning the value of spiritual belief; presenting real-life information versus acting out stuff that seems real onstage; lighting values (design by Brian H. Scott); how much narrative should matter in a play; and more. This production's value comes from how much it challenges the audience to consider and decide for themselves, and seen in that light, it is a success.

Field Guide

The Off Center, 2211-A Hidalgo
Through April 30
Running time: 1 hr., 35 min.

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