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Theresa Rebeck has long toiled in the vineyards of off-Broadway, and she fully deserves to shower in the bubbly acclaim that Mauritius, her new play, is likely to bring her. Rebeck’s hard-earned professionalism is fully on display in this tale of two half-sisters squabbling over a pair of valuable stamps and the three conniving men who want to wrest the treasure from the women.
And yet, while I quite relished this two-hour feast of double-crossing, the story didn’t fully reverberate the next day. Rebeck’s thematic overlay of capitalism’s inherent trickery sometimes seemed as thin and transparent as the plastic covering the pristine stamps – mid 19th-century one- and two-cent issues from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. “Commerce is always a complicated and nuanced arrangement,” says Dennis, the sexiest of the stamp-lovers hounding the women.
Complicated? Not exactly: I wasn’t fooled for a minute by the shifting alliances among the sisters, the resolute Mary and the defiant Jackie, and the male triad, which besides Dennis includes the resentful, cardigan-wearing Philip and the slick-suited, Mephistophelean Sterling.
That the last philatelist is named for a currency is no fluke: as in the plays of David Mamet, whose imprint here is as indelible as a hand-pressed postmark, money drives behaviour. As Dennis remarks, in one of his amusing attempts to act as an economic philosopher, “The exchange of cash commits us all.”
Mauritius is sufficiently enjoyable that its implausibilities do not ruin it. What some complained of when it debuted last year at the Huntington in Boston – a sketchy background for the sisters’ family tensions – still applies to this staging, by Doug Hughes, for Manhattan Theatre Club.
The fun of the play lies chiefly in its performances: a master class in underplaying from F. Murray Abraham as Sterling; an amusing display of crotchety humour from Dylan Baker as Philip; a burst of young-Jodie-Foster fierceness from Alison Pill’s Jackie.
Katie Finneran does what she can with the script’s least delectable role, Mary. As for Dennis, I am not sure who gave the performance: Bobby Cannavale or Bobby Cannavale’s hands. The actor punctuates every line reading with gestures that are textbook instances of what drama teachers call “indicating”. It is a measure of Cannavale’s charm, and that of the play itself, that one is so willing to overlook them.
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