Sometimes I think a play is written on a dare. In the case of Mauritius, I envision someone saying to the playwright, “I bet you a million dollars you can’t write a suspense thriller revolving around stamp collecting.” And, then I envision the playwright saying, “I will take that bet.” And, then I imagine that playwright collecting a million dollars over 40 years in monthly installments of approximately $2,000.
The Pear Avenue Theatre has harvested a juicy play, picked five phenomenal actors and served up a succulent dish of suspense and intrigue with Mauritius to be sure. There’s a undenialble cadence and musicality to this play which I quite enjoyed. I was struck by the inherent rhythm of this script, as well as how well that rhythm was directed and acted. Almost conducted, very much in the vein of how you approach a David Mamet piece. I couldn’t decide if I was more enamoured of the brilliant negotiation of quick staccato exchanges where questions are only answered with other questions and the topic of the conversation is never actually mentioned or moments where a character goes off on for pages and I’m left to hang on every word and decide, what would I do if it were me?
It’s no doubt the playwright has written three-dimensional characters who are all at once desperate, emotional, motivated and interesting, and the actors absolutely take them off the page and breathe life into them. Plenty of humor, plenty of dramatic pauses, and plenty of earnest suspense is played out in every element of this production. And as an added bonus there is a clandestine cinematic quality to this play with every slight, furtive expression captured in this in your face theatre of 40 seats. Even the scene change music pays homage to the genre with Hitchcock and Hitchcock-like psychological scoring.
For all the great moments created by the words and actors, the plot is predictable from a formulaic standpoint. You can tell pretty quickly how each plot point is going to be revealed; piece by piece, each leaked bit by bit. This is effective for the most part, though in a few places it really risked losing the audience with some of the vagueness. If it weren’t for the strong Mamet homage which proved a catalyst for what seemed like a permanent smirk on my face, I might have been less interested in this play than I was, despite all the pluses.
Although stamp collecting is certainly made exciting in this play, my biggest challenge with this play was in fact that it revolved around… well, stamp collecting. You don’t need to be a philatelist to enjoy this play, but it helps if you can appreciate that art and historical importance of stamps and if you “get” collecting in general. Why anyone spends millions of dollars on material objects is kind of lost on me personally. Then again, maybe if I had millions I’d feel differently. Quick, someone bet me a million dollars to write a comedy about dust mites or a mystery about Pez.
This is a mint condition 4 out of 5 jewels in the tiara for me. A good night of theatre that that spurs fun conversations. Mauritius plays at The Pear Avenue Theatre in Mountain View through November 20th.