Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Maritius"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


by Theresa Rebeck
directed by Rebecca Bayla Taichman

Jackie … Marin Ireland
Philip … Robert Dorfman
Dennis … Michael Aronov
Sterling … James Gale
Mary … Laura Latreille

Do you remember SLAPSHOT, the 1977 movie set in the world of professional ice hockey? That film caused a stir at the time as its female screenwriter demonstrated that the fair sex can be just as foul-mouthed as the opposite one. With her tense comedy MAURITIUS, winding down at the Boston Center for the Arts, Theresa Rebeck proves that she can write a Mamet play --- a dubious achievement since Mr. Mamet, for all of his supposed realism, is the most artificial of writers, his characters at their best when noodling like jazz musicians warming up but turning pedestrian when it comes time to perform. Like Mr. Mamet, Ms. Rebeck has her losers pursuing the American Dream: Jackie, an angry young woman, wants to sell an heirloom album of stamps for a quick, whopping fee despite protests from her half-sister Mary who claims the collection is her inheritance from her late grandfather. Jackie brings the stamps to Philip, a seedy stamp dealer, for an appraisal; Philip snubs her but his assistant Dennis zeros in on two particular stamps printed on the island of Mauritius in the early 1800s, reportedly the crown jewels of stamp collecting. Dennis informs Sterling, rich and shady, and Sterling will do anything, pay anything, to get his hands on those two small squares of paper. Ms. Rebeck has done her homework, making certain that there are no loopholes, conflict-wise: Jackie resents Mary’s long absence during their mother’s death; Mary, in turn, harbors an unhealthy attachment to her grandfather’s memory; Dennis is aroused by Jackie’s hard-edged gullibility as well as her business offer; Philip harbors a grudge against Sterling who once did him dirt and is now ripe for revenge in any shape…and so on.

Eugene Lee’s musty office setting forewarns that MAURITIUS will be an evening of double-crosses and double-double-crosses and on the night I attended, the packed house chuckled over each mean-spirited turn whereas I totaled up the implausibilities: that valuable album is casually handed back and forth or left lying about but, then, if Mary locked it up in the first place there would be no play; Jackie slaps Mary’s face at the end of Act One before stalking out with the stamps and it takes most of Act Two for the cowed Mary to reappear and take action; Dennis appears to be greaser-stoopid but knows a true stamp when he sees one (is he really Philip’s assistant or just one of the props in the corner?); neither Jackie nor Sterling show up for their nocturnal transaction without even a butter knife for protection; Philip, who is obnoxious throughout, reveals a humanitarian side to pave the way for a happy ending (a timid, bloodless cop-out) …and so on, again. I wasn’t bored with MAURITIUS, mind you, but I prefer to challenge wickedness rather than wallow in it --- but, then, that’s me.

The proof of Ms. Rebeck’s own artificiality lies in Rebecca Bayla Taichman’s spring-tight direction: one lull in the action, one pause held too long, and MAURITIUS would collapse at once; whether or not Ms. Rebeck originally intended her play to be a comedy, Michael Aronov’s Dennis, bouncing about like a jack-in-the-box, is determined to make it so. Marin Ireland’s Jackie is a brilliant, unblinking reflection of those rudderless child-women whom one passes on city streets; Laura Latreille is Pinter-perfect in depicting Mary’s fire-and-ice repression; Robert Dorfman has little to do but kvetch as Philip; and James Gale, despite the most grinding of voices, contributes a heartfelt performance in a show without a heart --- like many compulsive collectors, his Sterling is a jealous, possessive lover when seeking those rarest of stamps, melting when he sees them, wounded when he loses them; here, Ms. Rebeck relaxes her grip and allows both character and actor to expand with touching, tragicomic results --- pity that she didn’t relax more often as she did in her one-woman BAD DATES, which also had a trumped-up ending but traveled a more engaging route to get there.

"Maritius" (6 October - 12 November)
Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide