Mauritius -- Theater Review

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Theresa Rebeck's new play is a sinister, crackling lark of the slapstick screwball comedy type, about two lame-brain half-sisters who share a dark, unspoken past that each deals with differently: One's repressed, the other's a crackpot.

The play, which takes place in a film noir big-city underbelly, follows the sisters' fortunes as they clash on a neurotically tilted battleground of lost childhood and abandonment. Oh yes, they also are battling three bad guys for $10 million worth of postage stamps.

Although Rebeck's clever, sharp style lacks discipline, it turns out to be a big plus. Encouraged by director Jessica Kubzansky's good-natured insistence on pace, the cast quickly finds a comfortable dramatic pulse that they and the audience like, and stick to it as they make their way through an impressive repertoire of rotating sets and several realistic fight scenes. Kubzansky also makes sure the stage is used as fully as possible, sometimes even arranging the actors in lineups like they have in the opera.

Kirsten Kollender, who takes on the virtuoso demands of hysterically punk, greedy sister Jackie, gives a performance that explodes on the stage one moment, stretches seductively the next and ends up shaking its tightly jeaned little butt at the audience.

Coming out with all guns blasting, Monette Magrath creates a perfect retro parody, seen through Rebeck's twisted imagination, of a domestic and desirable earth momma circa mid-1950s. Where Jackie shoots laser bullets from her eyes and mouth, Magrath's Mary just glows blonde. Each actor also flashes her own brand of sex appeal.

The men are good, too, and the heavy lifting they've got do includes some smacking around of the dames. They've all got their Runyonesque streetwise heart and unreliable charm.

Chris L. McKenna is the young-stud grifter who jumps on the possibility of peddling the stamp world's equivalent of the Brooklyn Bridge to the underworld. He fights, dances, jumps on tables and croons. Whatever's going on, McKenna totally gets it, looks great and exudes heavy-duty charisma.

Ray Abruzzo (Little Carmine Lupertazzi on "The Sopranos") serves up a retro Mafia type, mixing murderous anger with irresistible angst as the rich rodent of a gangster with a surprising heart of gold. John Billingsley contributes an eerily tuned variation on the revenge-seeking mad scientist (well, a mad philatelist) goon.

Warning: The second act, which might raise expectations among those in the audience hoping to deduce the outcome, might also disappoint those seeking a dynamite final curtain. But whenever the written word or the even story lets them down -- and it's not often -- it's worth just watching the actors carrying on.

Venue: Pasadena Playhouse (Through April 26)
Cast: Ray Abruzzo, John Billingsley, Kirsten Kollender, Monette Magrath, Chris L. McKenna
Playwright: Theresa Rebeck
Director: Jessica Kubzansky
Scenic designer: Tom Buderwitz
Costume designer: Maggie Morgan
Lighting designer: Jaymi Lee Smith
Composer/sound designer: John Zalewski
Fight choreography: Tim Weske
Casting: Michael Donovan