Women and Water, Eclipse Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Theatre. It's hard to find a dramatic arc amid the epic sprawl and pell-mell action of John Guare's near-three-hour saga, the first in a tetralogy of historical plays depicting the rise and fall of a 19th-century utopian experiment. Detailing the movement's 1864 origins, Guare's overplotted potboiler includes such novelistic incidents as a racist massacre on a whaling ship, a chaotic battle at Cold Harbor, an attempted truce to tend the wounded, and escape from these assorted hells by an intrepid band of survivors. Their leader is Lydie Breeze, a Nantucket nurse incited by the slaughter to return to her island and found a commune.
However frenzied, Steven Fedoruk's staging--the first in Eclipse's season of works by Guare--is urgent enough to propel this ensemble effort, though it makes you long for some quiet. Guare says the work must be played in the moment, and Fedoruk's 16 cast members betray no inkling of what the next one will bring. David Tarlow's resourceful Samaritan, Todd Behrend's rascally Irishman, Andrew Whatley's simple soldier, and Christian Michael Felix's anguished freeman cabin boy are Lydie's plucky crew, ready to create a new paradise. Though Julie Daley's supposedly dynamic Lydie tends to react more than act, her stalwart Lydie epitomizes the thrill of sheer resilience.