When a rare and valuable stamp collection is left to a grieving young woman, everyone around her sheds their sympathies and maneuvers to take it off her hands in Mauritius, which ran recently at the Mid-City Theatre.
Tension between estranged half sisters Jackie (Leslie Boles) and Mary (Andrea Carlin) is palpable from the start. Upon their mother's death, Jackie, the brooding younger sibling, is left with unpaid medical bills and a stamp collection. Mary, who has been away for years, believes the stamps are rightfully hers, but she does not feel obliged to share any of the financial burden. The show's emotional tension comes from the relationship between the sisters. In an intense and well-acted scene, Jackie goes from inconsolable crying over feelings of abandonment to throttling Mary. They fight about money and old wounds, and both seem bereft of love and understanding.
Jackie takes the stamp collection to Phillip (James Howard Wright), a gruff man who is knowledgeable about stamps but neither compassionate nor diplomatic. Initially, Phillip wants nothing to do with the stamps, claiming he's tired of appraising peoples' "treasures." Dennis (Joe Seibert), who for an unexplained reason hangs out in Phillip's shop, looks at the collection and spots rare stamps from Mauritius.
In 1847, the island nation of Mauritius (near Madagascar) issued its first stamps. The sisters' collection contains both the Mauritian "one penny" and "two penny" stamps, now possibly worth millions of dollars. "It's the errors that make them valuable," says Dennis, who sets up a deal with Sterling (Marc E. Belloni), a foul-mouthed and angry version of Newman on Seinfeld, who is a shady businessman and stamp lover.
Much of the action focuses on verifying the stamps' authenticity, which only Phillip has the knowledge to determine. If the stamps are fake, they are obviously worthless. As the wrangling over their value and ownership progresses, all the characters' selfish desires are exposed, and ultimately none of the characters are sympathetic. But that works in this drama, as it does in many film noir crime stories. The sisters and collectors all get close to what they want, quickly switching allegiances when necessary. Sterling, the least likable figure, is the most clear about his motives and offers no excuses for his hard-driving manner.
A couple of early scenes lagged, but Act 2 hit a good stride, and the drama reached its volatile emotional peak in the final scene at the stamp shop. Written by Theresa Rebeck, Mauritius is gripping and smart. It's hard to decide who to root for, but the show is suspenseful all the way to the last line. — TYLER GILLESPIE