Why do some playwrights think it’s a good thing to people their works with selfish, unpleasant, generally repellent characters? Even Edward Albee and David Mamet, masters of creating malevolence and unadulterated nastiness in the folks that fill their texts, give their reprobate characters redeeming qualities and balance their vitriol with more sympathetic types. It’s not a dismal, alienating experience to attend their plays, no matter how dire the motives, actions or consequences. In contrast Theresa Rebeck’s play Mauritius, currently in production at the Bath House Cultural Center with Dallas’ Echo Theatre, presents five cold, hard, selfish miserable characters, none of which inspires a single drop of audience sympathy or empathy.
It’s an odd play to start with and concerns stamp collecting, which masks an unresolved sibling rivalry, which in turn falls prey to con games with sexual overtones. Picture this play as the start of a plot for Angela Lansbury’s Murder, She Wrote, before the series writers add in the murder victim element for suspense. As is, the only suspense generated concerns wondering who gets to keep Grandpa’s stamp collection and if it’s maybe fake….
Rebeck has had a prolific career as a writer, notable in this circumstance for high profile TV dramas like L.A.Law, NYPD BLUE and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. She has certainly made estimable income doing this commercial work (quite a lot more than I will ever make writing stage reviews), an admirable achievement. Her play Mauritius feels like a working model for a TV script for one of her successful show gigs and is one act too long for the substance it contains as presented.
Echo Theatre’s mission, to “unearth the power of the female voice by presenting works written by women for the stage” takes them into unexpected corners and vistas of artistic expression. As usual, their show is superbly cast and smoothly directed. The lighting, sound, sets and costumes create a vivid, believable picture on stage. Too bad the material isn’t up to the company’s capabilities.
Mauritius, by Theresa Rebeck, runs through September 26, 2009 at The Bath House Cultural Center. Terri Ferguson directs, with set design by Kateri Cale, sound by Pam Myers-Morgan, lighting by Bryan S. Douglas and costumes by Terri Ferguson. The cast includes: Leslie Patrick, Brian Witkowicz, David Meglino, Tony Martin and Brandi Andrade.
Tickets: 214-904-0500 www.echotheatre.org