Do Bears Tell Jokes in the Woods?

Yale Rep/Field Guide/Rude Mechs

The Rude Mechs company of actors, dancers, writers, and story tellers, have been working out of Austin, Texas since 1996. The company has been known to use humor as a starting off point for intellectual conversation and exploration.

The Brothers Karamozov is currently the focus of their exploration at the Yale Rep through February 17th. If you haven’t read the book, or if,  like I,  you did read it so many years ago that the Russian brothers have all jumbled up with every other Russian character in every other Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekov offering you have ever read, fear not.  There are cliff notes.

This delightful piece is in constant development, since there is much improvisation and new things are tried and played with constantly, as that is the essence of this company.  The fact that these actors work together regularly is quite obvious from the get-go.  They enter the stage from an outside door, dressed in white parkas. Then a monologue begins with one of the characters at a stand-up microphone.  The only thing missing was the brick wall.  THIS brother is played by a female, who announces at the end of her routine that her father was murdered and she had inherited his calves.

The evening provides us with some interesting visuals. The curtain is almost cartoon-like, made of cardboard and painted red and black. The rest of the scenery is little more than a group of differently shaped pieces of cardboard. The pieces are moved by people inside the pieces themselves, and they provide a slow ballet that is accompanied by a superb score by Graham Reynolds. (Mr. Reynolds has just finished composing the score for Richard Linklater’s most recent film, Last Flag Flying.) 

The essence of their dancing, is balance.  They dance slowly, they carry each other, they perch, they slide, they move off and on the cardboard furniture, and once again, we are well aware that these actors work together constantly. There is a great deal of trust.

Mari Akita, plays the brother Alyosha (The Spiritualist.)  Alyosha levitates periodically, and is often seen with a plate behind his head, ala Mel Brooks and the Last Supper scene in History of the World, Part One. Ms. Akita is a talented dancer however, her solo dance was a bit too long.  Lowell Bartholomee, as the father, Fyodor, is delightfully self-deprecating in his stand-up, which is performed in a bear costume. The Field Guide gently reminds us of the standard joke about what bears do in the woods.

I am happy to see a comedy at the Rep. They don’t do too many of those. Of course, it is not the Rep’s company, it is the Rude Mechs company, but still, it is nice to see.






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