A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.
In the fast-paced, hard-driving world of stamp collecting, there is no little square of paper more valuable than the Mauritius Post Office. In 1839, the government of the island paradise of Mauritius, just off the east coast of Madagascar, issued a One Penny and Two Penny stamp with the likeness of Queen Elizabeth in the center, with "Post Office" engraved along the edge.
Big mistake. The words "Post Office" should have read "Post Paid." Today, the Mauritius Post Office stamps, of which only a few survive in mint condition, are considered the crown of any stamp collection, having a combined worth of approximately six million pounds. It is these stamps that are at the catalyst for all the disreputable shenanigans in Theresa Rebeck's interesting new play, "Mauritius."
The play opens with Jackie, a young woman of about college age, entering an austere philately shop clutching a red album under her arm, trying to get the attention of the proprietor. One expects to see Rod Steiger in all his "Pawnbroker" glory emerge from behind the desk, but instead, we have cynical, sneering Philip, played by Dylan Baker, declining to look at yet another inherited "please let this be the lottery" stamp collection.
With one of the best lines from the play, "Does this look like the "Antique Roadshow" to you?," Philip dismisses the seemingly naďve Jackie, sharply played by Alison Pill, whose album turns out to be a treasure trove of stamps bequeathed to her by her mother. Dennis, in black leather jacket regalia, played by Bobby Cannavale of "Third Watch," is listening from the other room, and runs to see what the noise is all about.
Dennis gives a quick look at the collection, despite Philip's insistence that the man knows nothing, and does a double-take when he sees you-know-what. Playing it cool, he says nothing and tells Jackie he'll see her later. So begins the you-scam-me-I'll-scam-you romp of "Mauritius." Problem is that in this connect-the-dots con, too many dots are left out of the picture, including Jackie's half-sister, Mary.
Mary, played by Katie Finneran, turns up when their mother dies and says the stamps belong to her. She's been estranged from the family since she was 16, and now, a grown woman, stakes a claim that Jackie insists is bogus.
So what happened with their parents? Why did Mary leave and sever all contact? How did she find out about her mother's death? What's the source of Jackie's anger toward her sister? Here's a bunch of dots that got left out, and in fact, could have been left out entirely since the fun is in the scam. The relationship of the sisters only serves as a "who owns the stamps" monkey wrench to complicate the sale to Sterling, a rabid stamp collector.
Obsessively played by that brilliant actor, F. Murray Abraham, Sterling has had a lifelong compulsion to acquire the Post Office stamps. Dennis tells him, essentially, I can get them for you wholesale. But in the short period between the discovery of the stamps and Dennis' meeting with Jackie later that night, she's becomes a Post Office maven and holds out for a mint, so to speak.
Jackie distrusts Dennis; Sterling, who drools over the stamps, disgusts her; Philip suddenly disappears; and Mary says she'll sell only to a museum. So tempers flare, fists fly, the stamps are nearly burned at the hinges, and after Sterling leaves, Jackie gleefully runs into Dennis' arms and wraps her legs around him. What's this? Maybe Jackie isnąt that innocent after all. We never find out.
Given that two little stamps are enough to initiate a clever con, robbery, betrayal, family rancor, and near-murder, "Mauritius" should have been a better play. But with the loose ends of the con left loose, and the two females written as one-dimensional characters, "Mauritius" turns out to be flawed in important ways, though you won't realize it until itąs over and you come out with that "huh?" feeling.
That's because the central story is absorbing, the male actors are excellent, and the mystery is intriguing. It's worth seeing because in the end, it's fun.
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus