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Getting down and dirty over stamps: ‘Mauritius’

By David Begelman, Connecticut Critics Circle


Playwright Theresa Rebeck has authored a taut little drama about the arcane  world of philately. That’s stamp collecting, for those of us who are strangers to the hobby. In her play, currently being staged at New Milford’s TheatreWorks, five characters go at each other with a zeal so laced with expletives, you know the stakes are high. That’s the monetary stakes in a particular set of rare stamps.

The jackpot in question is the Mauritius “Post Office” issues, a treasure worth millions. They are inherited by two half-sisters, Jackie (Arielle Uppaluri) and Mary (Tracy Hurd). Naturally, the potential monetary fortune lures scammers to the prize like moths to flame or, if you happen to be in such an unlikely place as Tanzania, like hyenas to disabled antelopes.

Rebeck could have just as well wound her play around the lure of lucre sniffed out by such types as Enron executives, Bernie Madoff, unregulated oil barons, or bank officials peddling sub-prime mortgages. When the con men are afoot, the game is much of the time surprisingly the same—only the wallpaper changes.

In ‘Mauritius’ three men Dennis (Aaron Kaplan), Phillip (Mike Ritts), and Sterling (Viv Berger) conspire to capitalize on the opportunity to secure the treasured stamps. As it turns out, each of them has a very different strategy about making the most of the opportunity of bilking Jackie out of them. Interactions among the five characters reach a pitch of intensity in frantic attempts to enrich themselves.

Sterling is an old hand at professional scamming. When he realizes the value of the stamps in Jackie’s possession, he appears with a valise full of money, obviously far less than the value of the stamps would be on the open market.

Phillip assumes the role of brokering the deal between Jackie and Sterling, although his designs for self-enhancement are scuttled by his developing attraction to her. Dennis has a rather different strategy for financial improvement. Of the three men, his is the subtlest, and audiences will have to see the show to discover what it is.

Director Sonny Osborne has provided skilled guidance for each of her performers. They acquit themselves well in a play that nonetheless amounts to little more than a round robin of wrangling over money. Jackie becomes more frustrated and biting as her plans to sell the stamps falter, while Sterling becomes enraged and physically abusive as he sees his own scheme go up in smoke.

The half-sisters have at each other as if family ties were a thing of the past, while Phillip’s penchant for arbitration and brokering a deal falters. Only Dennis maintains a façade of being above the fray, although he eventually shows his conniving side.

The show is an enjoyable, if not especially uplifting, drama about people. Nor does it explore more important social issues. Greed, as is its wont, can turn up in the most unexpected places, like philately. I suppose that’s as likely a stamping ground for it as any other.

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