- Photo courtesy of James Orr
- Laura Paterra, Nathan Bell and Art DeConciliis in Little Lake's Mauritius.
Passion, greed, danger and fear play out in Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius at Little Lake Theatre. It's about postage stamps, mainly. Very valuable postage stamps. So valuable that you might think two shady characters could commit major violence to grab them with their sweaty fingers. At the hand of director Sunny Disney Fitchett, the tension keeps building as five totally believable actors pull you into the off-center clutches of unlovable people.
Rebeck's subject may seem too obscure and arcane to make a good play, but she has created a compelling story with crackling dialogue. While rarely losing momentum, she gradually lets you in on what makes everybody tick. But first you find out what starts the timers on their internal combustions: two incredibly rare 1847 stamps from Mauritius, a tiny, formerly British-controlled island off Africa's southeast coast. Obscure? Not to stamp collectors. And, perceptively, Rebeck reminds us what collectors always know: Error carries major weight.
Jackie found those little pieces of paper in her dead grandfather's detritus. Hoping to cash in, she encounters Dennis lounging around stamp-dealer Phil's shop. Seeing the stamps, Dennis disguises his awe and plots with Sterling how to get them from seemingly innocent Jackie. It looks as if Sterling, who knows philately like the back of his fist, stands ready to do anything to get them. But Jackie turns out to be more unpredictable than bargained for. A further fly in the mucilage: Jackie's half-sister Mary claims their grandfather left the stamps to her.
Twists and turns revolve, with no one trusting anyone else. And all the actors provide the dark dimensions which define these people. Art DeConciliis brilliantly makes Sterling's seething menace stand out, so much so that you may want to find a seat further back. Kate Neubert-Lechner ensures that Mary's well-written dimensions are always surprising. And Phil Powell gives stamp-dealer Phil the laconic indifference that speaks of remarkable acting discipline.
Director Fitchett keeps the pace and the tone intense, pulling you into this strange subject, making it move with force and conviction. And excellent program notes by Bill Bennett give fine background -- except for the lack of biographical info on the playwright herself. Audiences might want to know that Rebeck's credits include 13 TV shows and nine New York-produced plays including this one; she was also a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for Omnium Gatherum). No wonder this 2007 play works so well. Everyone involved locally gets credit for making it so.
Mauritius continues through Nov. 6. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelake.org