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Clever use of deception delivers genuine entertainment in ‘Mauritius’

By George Linkletter, Citizen News


Mauritius, an attention-grabbing two-act drama now playing at TheatreWorks New Milford, is an intriguing and entertaining look at the timeless human effort to achieve instant wealth and legitimacy — and the depth of deception that often accompanies such endeavors.

Created by the noted playwright Theresa Rebeck, who has written screenplays for popular TV programs such as “Law & Order,” “NYPD Blue” and “LA Law,” the drama centers on two half-sisters who have little in common, outside of the fact that they have just inherited a stamp collection that may contain two of the rarest and most valuable stamps in existence.

If authentic, those two misprinted stamps from Mauritius, a small Island off the East coast of Africa, might be worth millions to the right collector.  But it is unclear which sister actually ‘owns’ these ‘crown jewel’ stamps that have achieved mythic proportions in the tight-knit world of philately.

Three rival stamp collectors see the immense potential, and all five quickly become consumed with gaining an advantage -- learning the truth about whether the stamps are real or fake, and what the real value might be – while keeping the others in the dark.

This fast-paced production features some of the area’s finest actors, and they perform superbly in their roles.

Viv Berger of Southbury plays Sterling, a mob-like villain who already has money, and is interested in making much more via a fast-deal.  But he also wants legitimacy, which eludes due to his less-than-sterling past.  He thinks he will get it by possessing one of the world’s rarest treasures.  His soliloquies on the beauty of the rare stamps and the allure of a brief case full of cash are spellbinding tales of sex and money.

Arielle Uppaluri of New Milford plays Jackie, the younger of the two half-sisters who struggles with the difficult station of her life, and the loss of her mother.  She sees the stamps as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve prestige and comfort.  She pursues their sale with the urgency of an addict seeking a fix.

Aaron Kaplan of Danbury plays Dennis, the one character in the drama that has the greatest insight into the others.  His portrayal of a small-time player looking for a big score is excellent.  Watching him trying to hold together a secret deal, despite the abundance of distrust and greed, is pure entertainment.

Tracy Hurd of Brookfield plays Mary, the older half-sister who escaped the family dysfunction, thanks to an earlier inheritance.  Mary is comfortable financially, and seems less interested in money than in restoring the glory of her family name.  Despite her aloof manner, she is not above engaging in deceit to get her way. 

Mike Ritts of Torrington plays Phillip, a lifelong collector, and the owner of a stamp store, who is the most knowledgeable of all about stamps.  He is uniquely qualified to verify the authenticity of the stamps, but is otherwise overlooked by everyone else.  He bemoans his lack of respect -- but ultimately, like the others, engages in deception just the same.

Some audience members may feel there are a few loose ends in this production.  I enjoyed the uncertainty and found it thought provoking.  After all, the central motivation in this story is greed – and if left unchecked, that can overwhelm a number of other characteristics.

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