Theater review: `Mauritius’

Jun 02

Extended through June 28

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Zoë Winters (left) is Jackie, James Wagner (center) is Dennis and Warren David Keith is Philip in the Magic Theatre’s season-ending production of Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck. Photos by davidallenstudio.com

Director Greco leaves dramatic stamp on sticky `Mauritius’
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Two little tiny pieces of paper cause a whole lot of trouble for the five characters in Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius, a drama about – if you can believe it – stamp collecting.

Except the play isn’t really about stamp collecting. It’s about greed and ownership and, to a lesser degree, about family responsibility and the art of the grudge.

As she did in her hit play The Scene (seen in the Bay Area at SF Playhouse last season), Rebeck demonstrates a flair for vivid dialogue, with definite nods in the fragmented direction of David Mamet and Harold Pinter.

But Rebeck has more flair for comedy than either of those writers, which she amply displays in Mauritius, receiving its local premiere as the season-ender for the Magic Theatre.

By infusing her con-artist drama with some genuine emotion, Rebeck invites laughs and gives the game playing a comic edge that ultimately makes her more Coen Brothers than Mamet (thank the merciful heavens – one Mamet is quite enough).

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With the quick movement of some furniture and the sliding of some panels, James Faerron’s nicely designed set flips us between the play’s two locations. The first is a stamp collector’s shop run by Philip (Warren David Keith) and inhabited by Dennis (James Wagner), a philatelist always on the con, and Sterling (Rod Gnapp), a stamp-loving gangster type (you can tell he’s a bad guy because he wears black and has ugly gold buckles on his shoes).

The second location is the cluttered home, where Jackie (Zoë Winters) lived until very recently with her cancer-stricken mother. With her mother gone, Jackie is sorting through the remaining personal effects with the not very helpful assistance of her older half-sister, Mary (Arwen Anderson, above left with Winters).

Conflict arises in the stamp shop and the home because of two little stamps worth millions of dollars. They’re referred to as the “one- and two-cent post office” issued by the British government on the tropical Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. They’re said to be the “crown jewels of philately” and it just so happens that Jackie has found both stamps in album that belonged to her late mother.

Mary (you can tell she’s a prig because she wears an ankle-length skirt and speaks to everyone as if she were the teacher addressing second graders) claims the stamps belong to her because they were her grandfather’s, and he was like a father to her.

Jackie has her own plans for the stamps and, with the dubious help of Dennis, sets off a series of events that lead to Sterling’s involvement and Philip’s interference. It seems there’s a years-old grudge between Sterling and Philip that involved an actual woman rather than stamps.

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Beautifully played by Gnapp (right, with Winters), Sterling is a goon with intellect. He’s a gutter mouth and a soft touch where the Mauritius stamps are concerned. But Philip (believably drawn by Keith), is no patsy, and he will not see his status as King of the Stamp Nerds threatened.

At the middle of the melee is Jackie, embodied with wounded passion and vulnerable strength by Winters. This is a young woman who has been treated badly by life. Her home life was a disaster, her mother’s death was messy and her older sister is a creep. She sees the stamps as her ticket to a new life – wash the slate clean and start over again.

But that would be too easy. Everybody’s got a con (whether they know it or not), so Rebeck’s play keeps unfolding in surprising ways.

The first act of director Loretta Greco’s production is frustratingly slow — partly because Rebeck doesn’t do the Mamet-staccato dialogue all that well and partly because it’s hard to like anybody on stage — but things perk up dramatically in Act 2, though Rebeck disappoints in the end by too clearly delineating the villains who had previously shown more depth of character and had reasonable motivations.

Greco’s ensemble makes smart choices, especially when it comes to knowing how to play the drama and the tension against the laughs. Winters is especially adept at this particular game.

This has been a rocky season for the Magic, but it’s nice to see the season ending on such a solid note with a provocative, well-produced drama.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Magic Theatre’s Mauritius continues through June 28 at the Fort Mason Center, Building D, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street. Tickets are $40-$45. Rush tickets for people younger than 30, students, seniors and educations: $10 half-hour prior to performance, subject to availability. Call 800-595-4849 or visit www.magictheatre.org for information.

One comment

  1. As usual a good review Chad. The play has special sigificance for me. In fact it was a cornerstone of my life and stamps played a important role for me to go to Hollywood in 1978. Growing up in Ohio I became an ardent stamp collector when I started in the 7th Grade. All through high school I had a large Scott Cataloge and I collected stamps from all over the world. I think I knew every country in the world just from collecting stamps. I always dreamed of having that upside down 1 or 2 cent stamp that is mention in the play. Of course I never got near one.

    Where am I going with this story?????. I was inducted into the army in 44 and when I returned from the Pacific Theatre in 47, I returned to my parents home in Dayton Ohio. I tried college but was bored. I had a taste of camera work filming the Philippine invasion and the Battle of Manila and camera work became my life. Still where does stamps come in you might ask.

    I had a close buddy when we were filming in the Philippines and we were part of a camera crew doing documentaries for the army and for the war crimes committee in the Pacific after the war. After the war, he returned to the cinematrography dept at Republic Studios. Republic was just starting to producing “A” films and he called me and said I could have a position in the newly form cinematrography department. I had a little money but I had my big stamp collection which has some very good and semi important stamps in the album. I was able to sell my collection for a nice piece of change to a local stamp merchant in Dayton. I had money for the train, one month rent in Studio City and I was on my way first at Republic and later at Warners and about three years in between at Paramount. So stamps starts my way in lalaland.

    Sorry about the long story but that play brought back a lot of memories. Oh one more thing Arwen Anderson who played the bitchy sister told me last night that one of those upside down stamps went for $100,000 at an auction here in San Francisco last month. Also Arwen told me last night that someone in the audience called her a “bitch” toward the end of the performance. Warren David Keith also told me last night that the cast has been getting remarks from the younger members of the audiences during the previews. Nothing like live theatre.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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