Mauritius

Mauritius

It’s not really about Mauritius, an island off the coast of Africa where one of the most valuable stamps in history was created. Nor is it really about the stamp that was made at that island.

So what is it about? That question is difficult to answer, other than to say, “People.”

And these people are complicated. That is clear from the start. There is Jackie, the steely, determined, yet appealingly vulnerable young woman in possession of an old stamp collection. Then there is Phillip, the embittered stamp expert who snubs Jackie’s request to evaluate her collection. Lurking in the background is Dennis, the fast-talking everyman who takes Jackie under his wing, and Sterling, the volatile millionaire whom Dennis invites to purchase the collection. Back at Jackie’s house is Mary, her estranged half-sister who claims the collection belongs to her.

The stamp collection – an elusive object, bound in a non-descript leather album, is what this eclectic group revolves around. No one is sure who actually possesses it, or who should. Jackie thinks it is hers, because her mother gave it to her on her deathbed. Mary, the seemingly unflappable, righteous half-sister, claims it is hers, because it was her grandfather who assembled the collection. And what’s more, she wouldn’t sell it for any sum of money, because of what it represents to her and her family. Dennis wants to sell it to Sterling for what will be a tidy profit, and Philip, the most knowledgeable of all of them, thinks only he knows what it is worth.

But all is not what it seems on the dark, lonely stage at the Manhattan Theatre Club. As the ominous music that opens both Act I and Act II implies, there are sinister forces at work. Why is Jackie so angry with Mary? Why was Mary away for so long? What are Dennis’ reasons for helping Jackie? And why does Philip hate Sterling so much?

Swiftly staged and efficiently directed, the show moves rapidly, with this top-notch cast delivering rapid-fire dialogue that keeps the audience engaged and entertained. Alison Pill plays Jackie with a fierce determination, making her sympathetic but also – almost – admirable in her resolve to survive no matter what. Katie Finneran’s Mary is the opposite of Jackie, almost infuriating her calm morality. Dylan Baker’s Philip teeters dangerously close to a stereotype – the lonely, nasal-voiced expert decked out in an oversized cardigan. “Does this look like Antiques Road Show to you?” he sneers to Jackie when she presents her collection to him. The same can be said for F. Murray Abraham, the fast-talking, easily angered investor in the collection. But the true standout of the evening is Bobby Cannavale, making his Broadway debut as Dennis. At times he seems like a low-life, other times simply a moron. But there is much more to his character, hinted at through his modest performance as he delivers idiotic lines with understated intlligence. While attempting to negotiate the complicated transaction between Jacie and Sterling, he earnestly states, “When the river stops flowing, all the fish die. Give her the money or we’ve got a dead fish.”

Despite the humorous moments – and there are many – the show is dark, as is its surroundings. The majority of the show takes place in Philip’s store, consisting of gray metal shelves and dim lighting. Jackie’s mother’s house is a mess of half-packed boxes, where Jackie prefers to slump against the unlit fireplace when talking. The area of brooding and mystery is reminiscent of classic film noir capers. If it weren’t for all of the swear words that pepper the script, you would almost expect to find Lauren Bacall lounging against the side of the stage asking, “Got a light?”

The main theme, of the many that permeate this production seems to be the questioning of worth. How much money is the stamp collection worth? Is that enough to warrant the damage done to relationships? Or are those relationships damaged beyond repair already? Who is actually out to get who here, and why? How dangerous is obsession, especially obsession with inanimate objects?

There is no neat and tidy conclusion to this show. Whether the ending is happy or sad is up to the audience. The possible conclusions are numerous – who was really scamming who? Was the stamp collection real? Did Jackie know Dennis before she walked into the shop? If so, how did they meet and what are they doing now? And what happens to them after the curtain falls? None of these questions are answered, but the fact that they are even asked proves just how good this cast is at what they’re doing. Perhaps next year there will be a Mauritius 2?

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