BWW Review: MAURITIUS at UD Rep Ensemble
While UD Rep Ensemble's general modus operandi is classic plays from the likes of Moliere, Shakespeare and Thornton Wilder, their mission statement includes production of contemporary classics as well. Artistic Director Sandy Robbins is smitten by Theresa Rebeck, a prolific and award-winning American playwright, novelist and television writer. Her works have appeared on Broadway and off-Broadway. Rebeck's THE BELLS and FEVER have been staged in years past at UD Rep. Her new tv series, VARIETY (starring Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard (a tour de force in the movie Edith Piaf) was the talk of the Cannes Film Festival.
One of the great actors of Rep, Stephen Pilenski, directs his stunningly brilliant Ensemble colleagues in Rebeck's MAURITIUS in the intimate Studio Theatre, adjacent to The Thompson Theatre.
The play focuses on two half-siblings, Jackie and Gary, who inherit a stamp collection which might be worth a fortune. The title refers to two of the world's rarest stamps first printed, "the crown jewel of philately" - the 1847 one- and two-penny Mauritius stamps, worth millions if authentic. The two become involved with 3 others, all with degrees of nefarious intent. The characters try to out-do each other in attempting to reap rewards from the collection. (Think Redford/Newman in THE STING with the multitude of con jobs going on).
The errors on these two stamps make them valuable. The obstinate and curmudgeonly stamp expert Phil (heavily accented and bewigged Lee Ernst) intones..."as it is with people".
Ten years together, not only can these professionals interchange parts with ease, they are that good. It is truly a privilege to have them engage, entrance and entertain us.
Jackie (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) initially comes across as a beleaguered and bedraggled spinster coming to terms of her mother's death. Never having money, this poor soul wants to sell. Enter half-brother of Jackie, Gary (Michael Gotch) into the mix. Gary had not seen their mother for years, yet he demands the stamps are his inheritance alone. "They are solely mine. They are not for sale!" Rants ensue.
Later Jackie's flaccid spine turns as hard as Valerian steel in the cat and mouse interchange between she and the two that seek her inheritance: the manipulative and motor-mouthed Dennis (Mic Matarrese) and the imperious Sterling (Elizabeth Heflin), as delightfully icy and dominating as her name. One of the funniest bits is when Sterling sees the two treasures with her very eyes. (Think Meg Ryan's faux orgasm in HARRY MET SALLY, although the taciturn Phil did not suggest "I'll have what she's having".
Rebeck develops character so exquisitely that I caught myself inferring other neuroses in her characters that were left unspoken.
Scenic Design by Bill Clarke was ingenious, incorporating a carousel to switch from Phil's stamp shop to Jackie's dreary living room. I suggest this in the most complimentary of terms, but Costume Designer Barb Hughes must have traveled to every Goodwill in the state to create the existential frumpiness of Jackie's getups. Inversely, Sterling's ensemble was tres bespoke.
The dialogue is terse. The interactions are intense. These are challenges in which only a veteran troupe of actors would have a chance to succeed. With every production over these 10 years, this excellence in cast and creative crew makes UD Rep an essential part of our cultural DNA.
Ernst, doubling as Fight Director did a realistic job. Why? It looked like the combatants would sustain not only abrasions but worse!
There is profanity, a lot of it. (Think Trump's reaction when he first heard that Mueller was to be Special Prosecutor).
Through May 12 Rep.UDel.edu 302.831.2204
FENCES opens May 27 through May 12 in The Thompson Theatre