Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck Has World Premiere at the Huntington

Sisters Fight Over Inheritance of Rare Stamps

By: - Oct 19, 2006

Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck Has World Premiere at the Huntington - Image 1 Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck Has World Premiere at the Huntington - Image 2 Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck Has World Premiere at the Huntington - Image 3 Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck Has World Premiere at the Huntington


By Theresa Rebeck

Directed by Rebecca Bayla Taichman

Set by Eugene Lee, costumes, Miranda Hoffman, lighting, Paul Whitaker, Martin Desjardins, sound

Cast: Michael Aronov, Dennis, Robert Dorfman, Philip, Marin Ireland, Jackie, Laura Latreille, Mary, James Gale, Sterling

Stanford Caldwerwood Pavillion of the Boston Center for the Arts

The Huntington Theatre Company

October 6 through November 12

Box office: 617 266- 0800

          As we learn from the sleazy, Fonzie hustler, Dennis (Michael Aronov), it's the mistakes that comprise the incredible value of rare stamps. On the island of Mauritius the designer of the very first postage stamps, the one penny and two penny, engraved the profile of Queen Victoria with "Post Office" on her side, which is a place, rather than, "Postal Paid" signifying a transaction for which a tiny piece of colorful paper with glue on its back is proof of payment. As the marvelously lively and warmly engaging play by Theresa Rebeck unfolds in this production having its world premiere as a part of the Huntington Theatre Company season we observe that there are indeed a lot of mistakes.  These are mostly flaws in a mad scrabble of smarmy characters. They are all scrambling to have a piece of the action when two priceless (about $6 million on E Bay) treasures show up in an album as a part of the estate of the mother of Jackie (Marin Ireland) and her estranged step sister, Mary (Laura Latreille).

           The Colonial Postmaster on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius in 1847, when the Mauritius Blue was issued, was James Stuart Brownrigg, an Irishman. He was subsequently dismissed in disgrace after ''certain accounting irregularities'' were revealed.  In 1846 he commissioned  a 31-year-old engraver Joseph Osmond. The Englishman produced 1,000 'letter labels', as stamps were then called. About 500 copies of the penny red and 500 of the two-penny blue stamps were printed in 1847.

         Although this is a lively and heart warming production that is sure to be a hit there are more mistakes in Mauritius than the faulty design of the rare stamps. The direction of Rebecca Bayla Taichman has the sisters not just squabbling but screaming at each other. It is all too upper register to be entirely convincing or comprehensible. There are reasons that the sisters have been estranged for years but these are implied and never explained. It is suggested that Jackie stood by her Mom through illness and mistreatment but we never are clear on why Mary never responded and kept a distance. It implies that Jackie has a legitimate stake in the album in dispute. Certainly the hysteria could come down a few notches and still be credible. And the character Sterling (James Gales) is poorly written and cast.  He has a stupefying, gangsterish, ersatz British accent. The man is a thug as we see when he has Jackie down on the ground choking her, but the playwright would also have us believe that he can be brought to tears of joy and desperation at the prospect of owning pristine, uncancelled versions of the rarest stamps on earth. He delivers one of the most fascinating speeches in the play advising Jackie on why she should accept his low ball offer of a suitcase of cold cash, no questions asked, and just walk away clean and rich rather than tangle things up with lawyers and brokers like the enervating Phillip (Robert Dorfman) who take a cut to authenticate the objects. It's a compelling speech and could be more convincing were it not for the muffled, garbled, throaty delivery of Gales. The character reminded me of the British gangster/ gourmet of the classic cult film "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover."

           The play slows down in the character development between the estranged sisters who have met on the occasion of their mother's funeral and sorting through the seeming junk she left behind. In the first scene Jackie stumbles into the office of a stamp dealer seeking an appraisal of an old album. Phillip who is bored by such frequent off the street requests refuses to even take a look. Or charges $3,000 as a fee for an appraisal which Jackie clearly does not have. Instead Dennis, a stamp wannabe, offers to take a quick look, states there are some objects of interest but in poor condition, and then schemes to get the stamps, and along the way, the girl. But Mary has other ideas claiming the album as a rightful inheritance from her grandfather and does not want to sell them because they are of great sentimental value.

             The pace of the play, other than bogging down here and there, is brisk and energized. The director has given the actors, particularly Aronov and Ireland, room to breathe. Literally they leap all over the set with wonderfully physical acting. So much so that at times one wonders if we were watching a play or a ballet. On impulse, when the mood strikes, Aronov will leap up onto a desk in a single bound. The chemistry between the "romantic" lowlife pair is really terrific. He's a hustler and knows enough about stamps to make a "score" through a deal with Sterling. But she evolves from a helpless "lamb" to develop as a quick study with real street smarts. Mary is a straight arrow bore and we want her to loose but there is a plot twist which we will not reveal and a nice surprise ending.

              The stage design by Eugene Lee is absolutely brilliant. The first scene is set in a shabby office that  reminded me of the set for the Huntington's recent August Wilson play "Radio Golf." One wondered if they had just broken it down and moved it cross town to this other theatre. So it was a bit of déjà vu all over again. But then the scene changed and the actors pulled out the wings to create new settings. Within minutes an office turned into first the kitchen of Sterling and then the shabby living room of Jackie with its boxes of Mom's stuff. It was a stunning bit of spectacle.

                  Along the way in this two hour play we receive a concise education on stamp collecting and its passions. But aside from its thought and insight Mauritius is mostly a delightfully entertaining evening of theatre. There were tons of laughs and the enthusiastic audience left with smiles on their faces. Sure there are glitches and some fine tuning of script and direction are in order but other than a bit of nit picking this is a super boffo hit.