Huntington's Mauritius One Pleasant Surprise After Another

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Mauritius

By Theresa Rebeck

Directed by Rebecca Bayla Taichman
Scenic Design by Eugene Lee
Costume Design by Miranda Hoffman
Lighting Design by Paul Whitaker
Original Music and Sound Design by Martin Desjardins

Cast (In Order of Appearance)

Jackie, Marin Ireland
Philip, Robert Dorfman
Dennis, Michael Aronov
Sterling, James Gale
Mary, Laura Latreille

Performances: Through November 12 at the Wimberly Theatre
Box Office: www.huntingtontheatre.org or (617)-266-0800

I'm going to be honest with you. When I found out that I was reviewing a show whose plot centers around philately, I wasn't exactly thrilled. I mean, how exciting can stamp collecting possibly be? And why on earth would anyone decide to write a play about it?

But, like any show, I did my very best to go in without any preconceived notions. This was made a bit more difficult when my usual band of theatre-going suspects declined to attend, saying it didn't seem like all too interesting a production, but I managed to walk into the Wimberly Theatre a blank slate, ready for whatever theatre the Huntington was going to throw at me.

And am I glad I did! From the moment the lights dimmed and the rock strains of electric guitar came pounding through the speakers, I knew that Mauritius would not be anything like what I had expected. Instead of the mundane, I was treated to a deliciously witty dark comedy that I would recommend to anyone with a taste for good theatre.

Mauritius, named for the South African island where the first postage stamp was created, is the brainchild of Theresa Rebeck, a Brandeis alum with an M.F.A. and dramatic writing and a Ph.D. in English and American Literature. And did I mention that in addition to several acclaimed stage, television, and screen writing credits, she's also a Pulitzer Prize finalist and one of the leading female playwrights of this generation?

The tale centers around two estranged half-sisters who discover a book of rare, and potentially very valuable, stamps upon their mother's death. Jackie, the considerably younger and financially-minded sibling, wants to sell the stamps and split the profits to pay off the bills and start a new life, while Mary, whose love of philately began at a young age when she worked on the collection with her grandfather, wants to hold onto the collection for sentimental reasons. She, unlike Jackie, believes there are some things more important than money.

Exactly what happened within the family to drive these sisters apart and send Mary packing at 16 years of age we don't actually know, but as Rebeck so distinctly notes in this work, the past is not all that important. Jackie and Mary have had vastly different life experiences that have made them who they are, and really, the present and the future are all that matters.

As you might imagine by now, Mauritius is not at all about stamp collecting. Philately may be the vehicle Rebeck uses to tell the story, but, like any good theatrical work, it's about so much more. The play is about family, relationships, society, capitalism, grief, manipulation, history, trust, and the vast plethora of themes that sprinkle our everyday lives. Rebeck weaves her way through the story with a perfect balance of drama and comedy that leaves you laughing out loud one moment and gripping your arm rest the next. And the surprising facts you'll learn about stamps and collecting are, of course, the cherry on top of a particularly sweet sundae.

Rebeck's greatest strength in this tale is her characters. In addition to Jackie and Mary, whose lively pace and emotional bon leave no doubt that the two are family, three other roles round out the ensemble cast of five. There's Philip, the quintessential philatelist whose love and knowledge of stamps is apparent from the outset, despite his less than stellar surroundings. There's Dennis, the slick, twenty-something wannabe conman who has great ideas but isn't always quite as smart as he thinks he is. And there's Sterling, a slightly shady British millionaire—eerily reminiscent of the BBC Apprentice's Sir Alan Sugar—whose past with Philip is troubled but vague, and who will stop at nothing to get what he wants—in this case, two very rare stamps.

If those descriptions haven't piqued your interest in this production yet, then perhaps the actors themselves will. Mauritius is an ensemble piece, and no one in this cast gives a remotely bad or even questionable performance. I would even venture to say it's one of the best casts I've seen in quite awhile. The electric chemistry on stage is apparent from the outset, and this quintet of particularly talented individuals work together to not only to showcase one another's strengths, but to bring this story to life. James Gale thrills as Sterling and Robert Dorfman shines as the seemingly innocent and passive Philip. Laura Latreille, another Brandeis alum with more than a few regional, film, and television credits to her name, utterly convinces as the dowdy and sentimental Mary. Through her, we see that there's most definitely more to the character than meets the eye.

And even in an ensemble piece such as this, there are two absolutely remarkable performances that make every minute of this production worth seeing. The first is Michael Aronov, a theatre vet who has graced stage and screen in several productions and appeared in the cult classic film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Involved in this production from it's original reading at the Huntington last spring, Aronov has the role of the wily Dennis down pat and makes the character not only tangible, but, surprisingly, likeable. The second is, of course, Marin Ireland, who plays the troubled and vulnerable Jackie with absolute perfection. There's no doubt that this OBIE award winner has definite theatre chops, and watching her play this role is sheer pleasure. Her attention to detail brings the quirks, eccentricities, and delicate emotional balance of Jackie alive and will keep you entranced to the final blackout. To be honest, I would see any show with Ireland in a leading role, for no other reason than she's that good.

Rebeck's Mauritius, fortunately, is also that good. From OBIE award-winning director Rebecca Bayla Tachman's fantastic staging, to Tony Winning scenic designer Eugene Lee's remarkable set, to Rebeck's own meandering plot, this production is full of wonderfully pleasant surprises that don't fail to deliver from beginning to end.

Collectors say that the errors on stamps are what make them valuable, but as far as Mauritius is concerned, the errors are few and far between; it's the skillfulness and brilliance of this production that makes it a valuable theatrical treasure.



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From This Author Olena Ripnick

Olena Ripnick is a Boston University journalism student and freelance writer whose introduction to the performing arts took place when she was cast as Gretel (read more...)