Ex Arcadia

Pastorale (HERE), Deborah Eisenberg's dawdling audit of '70s world-weariness, actually falls into the tradition of the antipastoral. Eisenberg's characters are not modern glosses on bucolic shepherds and shepherdesses, but a city-bred clan immune to the pleasures of the simple life. Dazzling, dotty Melanie (Alison Tatlock), a maelstrom in a peasant blouse, finds herself house-sitting somewhere quaint in New England. Joined by her friends Rachel (Maria Striar) and Steve (Robert Alexander Owens), each more neurotic than the other, the three set about a slow campaign to destroy themselves and their digs through a program of drugs, drink, sex, and rampant overanalysis. Each character's voice emerges nicely, as Eisenberg has a fine ear and a subtle command of the ennui and frivolity of '70s-style slackerdom. She's also mastered the one-liner, as when Steve, describing the Sturm und Drang among his roommates, deadpans, "It's just so Teutonic over there." Eisenberg is best known as a writer of short stories and her one failing lies in her desire to create closure for her characters, to supply direction to a work that best succeeds as a portrait of aimlessness. A strained coda in which the principals, about to be banished from the Eden of their rent-free home, climb to the top of a hill and bask in the beauty of nature, rings ineluctably false. Director Pam MacKinnon steers the entertainment with a deft hand, keeping the pace swift and coaxing strong performances from her actors. While Pastorale may not offer sheepshearing festivals or maypole dances, it does provide a pleasant enough idyll amidst the tumult of Downtown theater.

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