MAURITIUS at Blackfriars Theatre
When you think of stories that are wildly captivating, real edge-of-your-seat stuff, you probably think of heist thrillers, gangster films, warfare and the like. You recall the battle sequences of Macbeth and King Lear, or that first rumble between the Sharks and the Jets. What you likely don't think of, is stamps. Philately, or "the collection and study of postage stamps", is hardly the stuff of intrigue and high-drama, right? Wrong. It's unlikely that you'll find a show with more intensity than Mauritius, currently playing at Rochester's Blackfriars Theatre.
Mauritius (referring to "Blue Mauritius", one of the world's rarest stamps), written by Theresa Rebeck which opened on Broadway in 2007, is a family drama intertwined with con-artistry and steeped in themes of trust and materialism. It focuses on half-sisters Jackie (Fiona Criddle) and Mary (Stephanie Sheak) who, after a death in their family, inherit a stamp collection that may-or-may-not be worth a small fortune. While attempting to get the collection appraised Jackie draws the attention of Dennis (Danny Hoskins, also Blackfriars' Managing & Artistic Director), a tattooed ruffian of mysterious background who informs Jackie of the collection's enormous worth and offers to connect her to a buyer who will pay top-dollar for her stamps. What follows is a tangled web of conspiring, conniving, and double-crossing as we're introduced to Sterling (Blackfriars regular J. Simmons), a wealthy businessman with rageful and manic tendencies who desperately wants Jackie's collection; Phillip (Jeff Siuda), the arrogant and condescending philatelist (god I love that word) whose loyalties and motivations seem questionable; and the hostility between Jackie and Mary, the seeds of which are run far deeper than some stamp collection.
Director Brian Coughlin could not have assembled a better cohort of actors to play these parts. From the escalating fury of Sterling to the odd likability of Dennis and his (sort of) handlebar mustache, to the backhanded compliments and entitlement of Mary, these actors tackle the show's complex mix of characters wonderfully. Fiona Criddle's Jackie steals the show though, particularly seeing her transformation from insecure and skittish in Act I to self-confident and...dare I say badass...in Act II, who goes from wanting respect to demanding it. The cast is extremely talented, incrementally jacking-up the tension while also weaving in intimate family dynamics and Shakespearean double-crossing.
The show's scene changes were quick and snappy, and the main setting-Phillip's stamp shop-contained all the dusty aesthetics of an antique book store, a credit to the production's set design and construction team.
I LOVED this play. While having the packaging of a thriller, it's ultimately about the pitfalls of materialism, the seduction of money, and Jackie's self-acceptance, as is evidenced when Dennis wisely says-about the stamps, but also about Jackie- "it's the errors that make them valuable." Rochester theatre-goers know Blackfriars as one of our town's top-tier theatre companies, and this is one of the most unique, best-cast, well-produced shows they've done in many seasons. They somehow make stamps exciting; you don't want to miss it.
Mauritius is playing at Blackfriars Theatre until April 7th. For tickets and more information, click here.