Stuart Bousel is having a heck of a year. The local playwright and director’s adaptation of Rat Girl, Throwing Muses singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh’s memoir, debuted at the EXIT Theatre’s DIVAfest in May, followed by his brilliantly funny romantic comedy Everybody Here Says Hello! in July. Now Bousel unveils yet another new play, Pastorella, about backstage drama in a small theater company’s production of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. Like the rest, this one’s at the EXIT Stage Left, the same theater he's been returning to all year. Unlike the others, Pastorella is directed by Bousel himself under the aegis of his own company, No Nude Men Productions.
The setting is a dressing room, with racks of costumes, makeup tables, a few water bottles and other personal items. Outside the theater are posted headshots of all the cast, but the bios next to the photos are not for the real-life actors but the fictional ones they portray.
Despite the name, Pastorella has nothing to do with traditional shepherd plays about the nativity like the one El Teatro Campesino produces in San Juan Bautista (that would be Pastorela anyway). It’s very much a play about and for theater people, with lots of in-jokes about the plum roles and lesser ones in plays from Arcadia to Hamlet to Angels in America.
There isn’t really a plot per se, but there is drama. Perpetual supporting player Warren (Justin Gillman) resents his handsome boyfriend Josh (Nathan Brown) for always getting the lead roles and is terribly catty about it behind his back — he insists he’s snarky, not bitchy, but he’s kidding himself. If Josh is always cast as Hamlet, Warren’s always Laertes. Warren also has a terribly stilted habit of referring to himself in the third person: “Young man looks askance at the love of his life.” But Josh is hardly any better, callous and self-centered and seemingly none too bright.
Kat Bushnell is omnipresent but unknowable as Gwen, the new actor in the company, a fly on the wall who mostly listens quietly to everybody else. She does have a speech at the very beginning, but it’s hard to understand for several reasons — it’s mumbled, unnaturally bookish, and competing with another simultaneous monologue that’s much livelier. Gwen and Larissa Archer’s listless Anya — the director’s wife and seeming partner in running the company — have a scene together toward the end, but they remain the two vaguest characters in the play.