Pastoralia is quintessential George Saunders—the fiction writer’s allegory of the cave as totally American workplace hell. In Yehuda Duenyas’s wickedly potent stage transfer, the novella’s narrator, Ed (Ryan Bronz) barely speaks—in English, at least. Ed and Janet (Aimee McCormick) are players in a primitive-people exhibit at the titular theme park; the more faithfully they maintain their Neanderthal lingo (“Oot! Oot!”), the better the sense of verisimilitude. (Imagine Von Trier’s Idiots in Jia Zhangke’s The World: This is acting about acting.) But attendance is laughably light—two visitors in three months—and Nordstrom, the park’s tall, slick corporate honcho (James Stanley, excellently unctuous and evil), means to make heads roll. Of course, he can’t just fire the subpar, troubled Janet; he needs Ed to narc on her by filling out performance report forms.
Pastoralia has a flurry of verbal pleasures. Nordstrom dubs downsizing “remixing,” shamelessly makes up scriptural lessons, and still has some grammar issues (“Is it brought or broughten?”). The dyslexic, hard-nosed convenience store owner (Richard Ferrone) is also prone to hilarious flights of linguistic fancy. But it’s the two lumpen cave dwellers (and later a third, played by Jesse Hawley) who give Pastoralia its soul. Dazzling humor ineluctably gives way to an unflinching, wordless take on those who put money over people; that this group is not restricted to Nordstrom makes the play all the more chilling.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 27, 2005