Theresa Rebeck's play about stamps has surprsingly high stakes, but they aren't always realized in Different Stages' production
Reviewed by Elissa Russell, Fri., Jan. 23, 2015
MauritiusCity Theatre, 3823-D Airport, 512/926-6747
Through Jan. 31
Running time: 2 hr.
From comic books to baseball cards, it's not uncommon to have that box that resides permanently in the attic, filled with some sort of collection that's "going to be worth a lot of money someday." Though my Beanie Babies are still accumulating more dust than monetary value, the right collection sometimes leads to a hefty payoff. Such is the case in Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius, put on by Different Stages. In the wake of her mother's death, Jackie is left with little more in the world than the family stamp collection, which might just prove to be more trouble than it's worth.
Problem is, Jackie knows nothing about philately, but she has a half-sister who does, and who vehemently insists that the stamps "aren't [Jackie's] to sell." Jackie and Mary have the same mother, and although Mary has been estranged from the family for years, she's conveniently managed to crawl out of the woodwork just in time for the divvying of their mother's assets. Mary claims that the collection's true value lies in sentimentality, since she and her grandfather, who was not related to Jackie, spent hours cataloguing and admiring the stamps. When Jackie rebels and takes the stamps to a shop for appraisal, however, it turns out that they are worth far more than mere memories.
Unwittingly, Jackie falls into a much tougher crowd than one expects to encounter in a stamp shop. After unsuccessfully begging the irritable expert, Phil, to authenticate the collection, Jackie earns some pity from Dennis, a slippery con artist type who just so happens to know a thing or two about stamps himself. As Jackie later learns, her collection includes two rare stamps from the island of Mauritius, known to experts as "the crown jewel of philately." Under Dennis' questionable guidance, Jackie arranges to sell these prized stamps to Sterling, an even slipperier con man philatelist with a short fuse and suitcases full of money.
For a play about stamps, Mauritius has surprisingly high stakes; unfortunately, the cast does not always rise to the challenge. They do, however, successfully pick up on certain dimensions of their respective characters. Melissa Vogt's Jackie is fierce and tireless in her pursuits, while Jean Budney completely nails Mary's disingenuous, saccharine antics. Matt Patterson's Dennis is a high point of the production, capturing the character's underhandedness as well as his charm. As Sterling and Phil, respectively, both Barry Pineo and Craig Kanne do a nice job serving up amusing one-liners in between screaming threats at the other characters. Although the cast achieves believability with certain facets of these tough roles, the play calls for a wider gamut of emotions that was not always completely realized.
This production suffers from uneven pacing and low production values. Mick D'Arcy's direction sometimes leads to awkward blocking and prolonged scene transitions. There are some issues with the lighting, as well as some unintended pauses in dialogue, though perhaps these have been corrected since opening night. Dennis tells Jackie of her stamps, "It's the imperfections that make them valuable." While that may be true of the Blue Mauritius, the imperfections in this Mauritius had much less of a payoff.