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27, Oct 2016
Blouch and O'Hare, photo by Mark Garvin

Mauritius: a crime drama about rare postage stamps

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

Mauritius, by Theresa Rebeck, through November 20, 2016 at Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler PA.

 

Theresa Reback’s Mauritius channels David Mamet at his best while eschewing the artificial speechifying of Mamet at his worst.

His 1975 play American Buffalo concerned a  rare buffalo nickel. Reback’s plot involves two uniquely misprinted stamps from the nation of Mauritius.

Two half-sisters claim ownership of their late mother’s stamp collection which might be worth a fortune. They, and experienced stamp dealers, compete to con each other. The play has echoes of both Arthur Miller’s The Price about two estranged brothers dividing their late father’s belongings, and David Auburn’s Proof where a damaged younger daughter resents her overbearing sibling. (Plus, I welcome a hint of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.)

The insecure young Jackie (the excellent Campbell O’Hare) comes into a stamp store as a lamb primed for slaughter. The philatelist Philip (Brian McCann) is coy while office hanger-on Dennis (Jake Blouch) offers his assistance. Perhaps this is a routine that the pair has worked out; the ingenious script keeps us in the dark.

We learn that the collection is not actually Jackie’s. Her older half-sister Mary (Julianna Zinkel), claims ownership too. Then a wealthy thug arrives with his own plans as Dennis seductively ingratiates himself with both women.

The rivalries and trickery are played for laughs as well as suspense, and the language flows far more naturally than Mamet’s. Rebeck cleverly keeps us guessing who has the upper hand or who’s scamming whom.

O’Hare endearingly engages our sympathies as Jackie, who feels that the stamps are her repayment for devoting her life to her mother while her sister absented herself. She holds two tiny slips of paper as her weapon as she vividly proclaims: “You want me to calm down. That’s not exactly what I was thinking of doing. More what I’ve been thinking about is finding some sort of plastic bag, you know some sort of clear, strong plastic? And then I was thinking I’d figure out how to fasten that around your head, with some duct tape.”

Zinkel deals professionally with the less-sympathetic role of the older sibling. Blouch is a charming rogue as Dennis, McCann underplays the quiet Philip, while the veteran Stephen Novelli presents a tour-de-force characterization of the menacing, super-rich con man ironically named Sterling.

This production is excitedly paced by director David Bradley inside an impressively detailed set by Colin McIlvaine.

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