Writer-performer Matt Gould's musical about the time he spent living in Mauritania while working for the Peace Corps is the sort of earnest effort that leaves us wishing that a kind heart and good intentions were enough to create compelling art. Unfortunately, while the simple fact that Gould spent time performing generous, decent toil with the ostensible purpose of helping others, is itself extraordinarily commendable, it doesn't make for merit-worthy stagecraft. Gould's unexceptional dramatized travelogue of his adventures in Mauritania never manages to make the jump to delighting the audience.
In 2001, Gould joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in Mauritania, where he spent two years teaching English and providing general health training in the tiny village of Bababe. He lived with a local family, and the play fondly milks his initial discomfort at having to adjust to a new level of existence, which included having to wipe his bottom with his left hand and to eat food from a bucket in which others have sneezed. During these scenes, Gould, fondly named "Mamadou" by his host family, comes across as more of a sweet and unworldly "Mamadoo-fus" than as anything else. His anecdotes are punctuated by musical numbers, which are backed by a trio of chorines dressed in African garb.
Director Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter allows the show to unfold at a crisp pace, which goes a long way to spicing up the generally lackluster vignettes. The show also boasts nicely ambitious choreography, credited to Cisco Drayton, and offers engaging performances by the trio of gospel-y back up singers (Gina Malfatti, Sabrina "Bri" Johnson, and Steven Saffold Jr.). However, the show ultimately rests on Gould's shoulders, and it's regrettable that the performer is unable to carry the production. His intermittently tuneful songs occasionally show flashes of promise, but are undermined by his banal, easy-rhyme lyrics. And his performance itself is more often broad and clumsy, seemingly more focused on showcasing himself than in providing an understanding of an extraordinarily different culture.
"The Time When I Was Mamadou," presented by CART-West at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 3 pm Jan. 7-30. $25. (323) 960-7735.