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The Bay Theatre Company Mauritius

By • Feb 22nd, 2010 • Category: Reviews
Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck
The Bay Theatre Company
Bay Theatre Company, Annapolis, MD
Through March 21st
2:10 with one intermission
$30 General/ $25 Students and Seniors
Reviewed February 19th, 2010

Read the Director’s notes and don’t read the Wikipedia article. That’s my advice for Mauritius. The story hinges on stamps, yes, but don’t write it off. Director Steven Carpenter gives a professional show that is both endearing and intense with excellent scenes and interpretation. Mauritius is perfect for the suspense-seeking theatergoer.

The Bay Theater is a tiny black box theater that seats 65 people; maybe 84 people if they squeeze. This can be both an asset and a detriment to any production. Mauritius was an excellent choice for the Bay Theater; if it had been performed on a large stage, much of the emotional intensity would have been lost. On the other hand, actors used to a larger venue may have a hard time adapting voice and action to a smaller space. Also, since seating is so limited, be sure to reserve your ticket sooner rather than later.

The show was well cast to create visual and dynamic variety. Act one felt a tad contrived, perhaps because of the choppiness of the exposition process. Act two flowed smoothly through the climax of the story and into a satisfying conclusion. Characterization was wonderful across the board, especially the silent acting and reactions of Peter Wray as Philip and Karen Novack as Mary. Dimension and dynamic are what hold my attention as a theatergoer and the vocal and emotional variety was highly engaging and appropriate. Rana Kay cultivated a very believable character. Jackie was deceptively innocent which gave her character’s journey an intensity I hadn’t expected.

The set, designed by Ken Sheats, was simple and highly effective. All scene changes were made by the actors quickly and efficiently, usually in thirty seconds or less. The biggest set piece was used the stamp shop counter, complete with a very believable display. It rotated ninety degrees to become a bookcase which was easily disguised with cardboard boxes. The entrances and exits were consistent and did a good job of creating a scene even outside the set itself. The shop entrance was especially well done and the bell was a delightful touch.

The lighting design by Preston and Steven Strawn was wonderful. It focused the scene at appropriate times, added effect and adequately lit the stage.

One disappointing feature of the show was the fight scene in act two. The choreography itself was reasonable, but the execution was poor. It was too slow, too obvious, and too fake. There was a point where the action switched from “in-character” to “out-of-character trying to be in-character while trying hard not to hurt anyone” and then back. The switch didn’t last long, but it kept the fight from reaching the threshold of believability.

Mauritius was fast-paced and energetic. The Bay Theater Company chose an excellent script that catered to the size of their venue. The actors were dynamic and engaging, generally without being excessive. The set design was simple, yet effective. Ticket prices are very reasonable for professional theater and definitely worth every cent.

As a side note, the story is nuanced (though superbly articulated) and there are frequent uses of profanity, so I do not suggest this show for younger audiences.

Director’s Note

A suspense drama about stamp collecting – sounds like a strange and somewhat surprising idea for a play. And while that might be the simple way to describe Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius, it hardly begins to explain what really makes this play tick. On the surface, the matter of the 1 penny and 2 penny “Post Office” stamps from Mauritius – how much they’re worth, who owns them, and who is conning whom to get them – is firmly at the center of the plot. But the real heart of the play, and what undoubtedly makes it fascinating for both theater makers and theatre goers, are the rich characters that Rebeck has brought to the table and the twisted relationships that develop between them.

It’s easy to see how Rebeck’s experience writing for television shows such as “Law & Order” and “NYPD Blue” is borne out in this script, with it’s double-crossing conmen domestic arguments and surprising plot twists.

But it is her incisive examination of human behavior and her understanding of the plight of desperate people that make this play deeper and more satisfying than any TV drama.

Some of the power of Ms. Rebeck’s writing comes from what she doesn’t tell us. Characters allude to things in their past – large, life-changing events that have defined who they are – but the playwright keeps most of the details of those events murky. While we are unsure exactly how these people go to this point, it is clear that they are all, in one way or another, damaged.

And it is not in Ms. Rebeck’s interest to try to heal their wounds; her focus, rather, is on how these damaged souls behave morally in today’s world. When asked in a recent New York Times interview to cite the major themes in her work, she responded, “Betrayal and treason and poor behavior. A lot of poor behavior. I’m interested in what drives people to poor behavior…I do believe that there are monsters out there, and that they are monsters.” In researching the world of philately, Ms. Rebeck was intrigued by the seeming monomania of the collectors. “It became clear that there was some kind of hunger in these people that the collection of objects answered. I found that mysterious and moving – why that thing would satisfy your spirit in a deep and meaningful way.” She goes on to say about the people in her play, “The stamps mean something desperate to all of them. In some ways the stamps mean life to them. I’m a believer that all of us are broken in some way, and there’s a hole in our heart that we pour our own destruction or our children or our stamp collection into.”

With this kind of thinking, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Ms. Rebeck has wrought a compelling, suspenseful drama out of so seemingly mundane a topic as stamp collecting. As Dennis, one of the characters in Mauritius, observes, “You know that they say about the stamps. It’s the errors that make them valuable. That’s kind of my theory on people.”

– Steven Carpenter

Cast

  • Jackie: Rana Kay*
  • Mary: Karen Novack
  • Sterling: Nigel Reed*
  • Philip: Peter Wray*
  • Dennis: Danny Gavigan

*Denotes a member of Actors’ Equity, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

Artistic Team

  • Director: Steven Carpenter
  • Stage Manager: Tupper Stevens*
  • Producers: Janet Luby* and Lucinda Merry-Browne*
  • Set Designer: Ken Sheats
  • Lighting Designers: Steven Strawn and Preston Shrawn
  • Staff Master Electrician: Steven Strawn
  • Scenic Carpenter / Painter: Ken Sheats and Dan Interlandi*
  • Props: Joanne Gidos assisted by Mike Gidos
  • Cotume Designer: Christina McAlpine
  • Fight Choreographer: Peter Wray
  • Wardrobe: Judy Nevins

*Denotes a member of Actors’ Equity, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

The Bay Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is a student of Speech and Communication at Northern Virginia Community College. She has been involved in the performing arts since the age of five when she debuted as the Little Red Hen on an elementary school stage. Her career includes both national and international ensemble performances with semi-professional choirs, various roles in community and college musicals (both onstage and off), as well as co-directing drama camp for Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA.

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