Mauritius ; Stuff Happens ; 9 Parts of Desire
Theresa Rebeck’s new Mauritius makes philately seem almost as exciting as the activity it sounds like. In its crackling world premiere by the Huntington Theatre Company (at the Calderwood Pavilion through November 12), the play marries Rebeck’s smart comic writing for the stage (Spike Heels, Bad Dates) to her experience penning sinister doings for the likes of NYPD Blue and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. And from the minute you enter the theater and take in the seedy office of P&J Philatelic Co., you think of David Mamet’s American Buffalo, in which a trio of petty thieves try to crack the mysteries of coin collecting. Rebeck substitutes the world of high- and low-rolling stamp fanciers and throws in a couple of wounded women. It’s as if Mamet’s never-seen Grace and Ruthie, revved up on past resentment and a Colombian coffee field’s worth of caffeine, had materialized.
ECHOES OF MAMET: But Theresa Rebeck’s interest in her damaged people sets Mauritius apart.
That is, of course, a blessing and a curse; Mauritius is a firecracker, but you have to accept that in its bang there are strong echoes, both rhythmic and thematic, of vintage Mamet. Mary, the squarer of the play’s disparate half-sisters locked in a fierce dispute over whether to market the stamp collection that turned up among their deceased mother’s possessions, opines that one cannot dispose of one’s inheritance for “mere money.” Whereupon sib Jackie explodes, “I’m sorry, did you just say ‘mere money’? Where do you think you are? This is America! . . . Money is what we crave here.” In the stamp shop of Mauritius, as in the junk shop of Buffalo, Mammon is god. And in the posturing cat-and-mouse games played at his altar, distrust and violence trump human connection.
As the play opens, a wired, logorrheic Jackie enters Philip’s dingy philatelist’s heaven seeking an appraisal of the stamp album of her half-sister’s grandfather. “Does this look like Antiques Roadshow to you?” the rumpled old expert barks. But Dennis, a swaggering hood and amateur stamp maven, takes a look — and in Rebecca Bayla Taichman’s tightly wound production, you don’t need words to see he spots something. Next thing you know, he’s in a diner trying to entice a very intense, possibly criminal collector into shelling out big bucks for the postal panacea of his dreams: one- and two-penny stamps incorrectly marked “post office” instead of “post paid” when they were issued in 1847 from the island of Mauritius. “It’s the errors that make them valuable,” Dennis later tells Jackie, adding, “That’s kind of my theory on people, too.” And it’s Rebeck’s interest in her damaged people, as well as in their attempts to con one another for precious bits of paper, that splits Mauritius from Mamet.
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