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Posted Jul 26, 2012, 9:43 am
It’s difficult to get too worked up about something as staid as stamp collecting. Nonetheless, Live Theatre Workshop’s new show, “Mauritius,” manages to create some exciting drama and wry comedy about a small group vying for the prize represented by a rare stamp worth millions. Along the way, we encounter greed, duplicity, old debts and a hint of violence.
“Mauritius” was written by Theresa Rebeck, whose credits include numerous plays, including co-writing “Omnium Gatherus,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She also created NBC’s show “Smash,” and her play “Seminar” is currently on Broadway.
“Mauritius” begins when a young woman, Jackie, tries to get an appraisal for her late grandfather’s stamp collection that she inherited from her recently deceased mother. The local expert, Philip, is too busy being a jerk to be bothered. However, Dennis, who hangs around the shop for lack of anything better to do with his life, takes a look and realizes there is a fortune to be made from the incredibly rare stamps that Jackie is innocently offering. And so the grift begins.
Dennis contacts Sterling, a wealthy ne’er-do-well collector with more than a hint of crazy. At first, they begin scheming on how to pay less than market value and make a killing. However, it’s soon clear that Sterling’s obsession to possess the rare “Mauritius” stamp is the real goal.
Also in the mix is Mary, Jackie’s long-lost half-sister (same mom, different dads) who is claiming the stamp collection as her legacy from their maternal grandfather, with whom she shared many hours before splitting from the dysfunctional household at 16.
Is that a Mauritius Stamp or a MacGuffin?
The stamp collection, of course, is merely a MacGuffin, an inciting device to allow the machinations of acquisition, deception and conflict to play out. Mary and Jackie have a bitter past as estranged sisters. They’re mirrored by Phillip and his animosity towards Sterling over some long-ago event that left Phil single and bitter. Sterling doesn’t care much about anyone or anything, except for possessing his precious stamp.
Jackie wants respect for sticking it out with their mother after Mary split. In lieu of that, she’d like enough money to let her spend the rest of her life comfortably sipping margaritas on a tropical beach.
Carley Elizabeth Preston gives a thoughtful performance as Jackie, showing both the shrewd and shattered aspects of her personality. Preston gives us a woman with a primal need to be acknowledged, who also resents that she has been underestimated so much of her life. Her emotional neediness is her tragic flaw, but that said, Preston’s quick reactions show that she isn’t stupid, and in fact, proves that underestimating her is a big mistake.
Jonathan Northover also gives an outstanding performance as the borderline psycho Sterling, who has badly hurt people previously for less than is at stake here. Northover does a captivating job twitching back and forth between savvy businessman and obsessed collector with poor impulse control. You can feel his conflict as his businessman side struggles to put limits on what he can do to finally own what he wants so desperately.
Michael Woodson is also interesting as Philip, the philately expert who has at least a touch of Asperger’s syndrome in his unsocial, obsessive and bottled-up personality, more at home with stamps than with people. The cast is rounded out by Steve Wood as Dennis and Rhonda Hallquist as Mary. Both do a good job spinning around the oversized egos of the three primary characters. Overall, there is a strong sense of ensemble in the performances.
Rebeck heavily peppers her dialogue with f-bombs. Rather than gratuitous, the outbursts feel appropriate and organic for characters reaching the limits of language and resorting to profanity. There are also some laughs that balance out the drama in this tautly scripted work.
Director Sabian Trout does a strong job keeping the pace fast enough and the energy level high enough that a major flaw in the play’s logic can go mostly unnoticed. Mary’s claim to sole ownership of the stamp collection is legally untenable. In the absence of a will, the courts would likely split mom’s estate (including what she inherited from her own father) evenly between the two surviving daughters, regardless of who mom liked best. Jackie has waited for years to get her due, so her impulsive push for immediate gratification is not wholly congruent. Of course, no one wants to watch a play about probate court proceedings stretching over years. So the lapse in logic is a weakness, but not necessarily a deal breaker—though it may drive attorneys nuts. (Think about that if there are any lawyers in your life who you’d like to push over the edge.)
Mauritius is solid work by LTW, worth seeing especially for Preston’s and Northover’s smart performances.