The ‘M’ plays featured at the Bartell great shows

Elliott Puckette, Arts Editor

As a young and broke theater enthusiast, I’m always looking for ways to see theater for a not-money cost. My best solution has been to volunteer at the shows I want to see. The Bartell Theater just off the Capitol square is great for that, and last week I saw two fantastic shows for the low low price of box office assistance: “Misalliance” from Strollers Theater and “Mauritius” from Madison Theater Guild.

“Misalliance” by George Bernard Shaw is a witty and wordy afternoon of matchmaking in an upper-middle class English home. Though the whole play is one long scene, there’s a fair amount of excitement to be had, and not all of it on revolving around love. There are crashing airplanes, a gunman, temper tantrums – all you could hope for on a lazy British afternoon.

The whole cast brings their best to a play that bears a striking similarity to the work of Shaw’s contemporary Oscar Wilde. Shaw took ample opportunity to throw shade on some of the greatest men of his era and indeed all western literature in the spouted recommendations of Mr. Tarleton (played excellently by one Carl Cawthorne). Mr. Tarleton’s assertions to “Read Chesterton” or whoever else he thinks once said something on the topic of conversation are hilarious even if you have only a passing familiarity with the figures.

One of the best lines in the play, considering today’s political climate, is when Mr. Tarleton reassures his affronted wife. “All right Chickabiddy: it’s not bad language: it’s only Socialism.”

“Misalliance” will continue to grace the Drury Stage until March 26 but unfortunately “Mauritius” has run it’s course. The other M play of the Bartell is a modern one, written by Theresa Rebeck, who’s CV includes numerous credits for “NYPD Blue” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” As one might expect given that history, “Mauritius” is much darker than its verbose housemate.

Which isn’t to say that it isn’t funny. After all, a gritty drama about a stamp collection can only take itself so seriously. There are plenty of moments where the cast of characters are so serious in their passion over a stamp that you can hardly believe the truly nasty lengths they are willing to go to attain it.

The writing, direction of Dana Pellebon, and incredible performances of the cast made what might otherwise be a cringingly campy concept into a genuinely moving play about family and why we care about the things we do. I was near tears at the end, and I will only say that the final twist makes you realize just how invested you can become in the fates and fortunes of a few characters in just two hours.

“Mauritius” has received considerable and well-deserved attention in the local theater community, and consistently filled the seats, despite not being a famous name. Quite a number of people at the box office stumbled the title when asking for ticket, so I’ll end with a phonetic guide: “Mar-ISH-us.”