Theater Reviews

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Biltmore Theatre, New York
Through Nov. 18

One wouldn't think that the subject of rare stamps would make for gripping, entertaining theater, but Theresa Rebeck's "Mauritius," being given its Broadway premiere by the Manhattan Theatre Club, proves otherwise. This smart, funny tale of a young girl's interactions with three disreputable philatelists plays like a modern-day cross between "The Maltese Falcon" and "American Buffalo" and features smashing performances by its leads.

The title refers to the island from which the stamps in question originated. They are a pair of rarities that are part of a collection owned by her late grandfather that Jackie (Alison Pill) is looking to unload. When she wanders into the run-down shop owned by the irascible dealer Philip (Dylan Baker), she sets off a series of convoluted machinations that have great ramifications for everyone concerned.

Philip can't be even bothered to look over what she's brought, but slick hanger-on Dennis (Bobby Cannavale) quickly surmises the value of what she has. He follows her home to further his plan to get the stamps for a cheap price by using his fast-talking charm. But things become more complicated with the interventions by Jackie's estranged half-sister Mary (Katie Finneran), who asserts that she's the stamp's true owner, and Sterling (F. Murray Abraham), a shady black market businessman who desperately covets them. What ensues is a complicated series of negotiations and double-crosses featuring much verbal parrying and threats of violence.

"Mauritius" is ridiculously contrived and hardly deep, but it is consistently entertaining thanks to its pungent dialogue, wildly colorful characters and fiendishly clever plot twists. Director Doug Hughes has assembled a sterling cast, with the male actors in particular biting into their roles with discernible gusto. Baker is hilarious as the burned-out Philip; Cannavale is wonderfully smooth as the duplicitous, comically philosophizing Dennis; and Abraham superbly combines menace and comic flair as the obsessed Sterling. Watching the latter's reactions as he sees the treasured stamps for the first time, and then finds his long-awaited acquisition suddenly threatened, is worth the price of admission all by itself.

Pill and Finneran also are fine, even if their characters don't carry nearly as much fascination. Indeed, the scenes in which the sisters engage in tired familial bickering are the least interesting of the evening.

The sort of well-made, engrossing and unpretentious play rarely encountered on Broadway these days, "Mauritius" is a welcome introduction to the fall season.

MAURITIUS
Manhattan Theatre Club
Credits:
Playwright: Theresa Rebeck
Director: Doug Hughes
Set designer: John Lee Beatty
Costume designer: Catherine Zuber
Lighting designer: Paul Gallo
Original music/sound designer: David Van Tieghem
Cast:
Jackie: Alison Pill
Philip: Dylan Baker
Dennis: Bobby Cannavale
Sterling: F. Murray Abraham
Mary: Katie Finneran
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