Friday, September 28, 2007

Mauritius - September 27, 2007

If you are not a stamp collector then the title of the Manhattan Theatre Company's current Broadway gem might be a mystery to you, it was to me. Do not let that scare you off. This is a show to see.

A play about two sisters fighting over an inherited stamp collection (Mauritius [pronounced More-ish-ous] is the name of the prize stamps of the collection) might not seem fodder for hilarity, but in the skillful hands of Broadway first-timer, Theresa Rebeck this story sings. Her writing is lean and witty and Broadway would do well to encourage more writers of her talent. The last Broadway show that made me laugh this much was The Lieutenant of Innishmore and while the subject matter and style of the two shows is vastly different, the level of quality and sheer sense of style are comparable.

Paul Gallo's lighting design is unobtrusive and aids in the near noirish feel of John Lee Beatty sets. The perfect backdrop for this story of familial discord and back-room, high stakes commerce. Smoothly shifting from vaguely rundown philatelists' shop to seedy bar, to lower middle class home each set piece is subtle and fittingly dreary. Just one step below what might have once been 'nice', just as the characters are. Each of them is teetering on the edge of their own precipe, and each of them sees the Mauritius stamps as salvation.

But while the set, lights, sound and costumes are all wonderful, the beauty of this show lies in the exceptional comic timing of a cast that clicks on every level and hits every note. Every laugh hits and the moments of drama are deep enough to make you wonder if there could possibly be another laugh in the offing. There is. And another, and another. Though many shows can make an audience smile silently, there are few things in the theater better than a show that actually makes you laugh aloud like Mauritius.

Alison Pill (Jackie) and Katie Finneran (Mary) are the sisters. Their sibling chemistry is spot on and their exchanges are a blend of heartache and hilarious that rings true to anyone who has every had a family fight. Alison Pill's work gets stronger and stronger in every show I've seen her in and here she gets to show us that she can move from nervous breakdown to cool sarcasm in a single beat. Katie Finneran, who was perfect as the put-upon older sister in the short-lived, but excellent, television series Wonderfalls gets an opportunity to take that character, switch her up and turn her on her ear. If I had to choose one actor from this piece with the sharpest comic timing, (and that would be a VERY difficult choice) it would have to be her. Bobby Canavale is (Dennis) as the would be facilitator of the sale of the Mauritius stamps has an 'aw shucks' charm combined with a sense of shady street smarts and a hint of hidden depth. When he tells the distraught Jackie that it is "the errors that make stamps valuable" and later explains that he feels the same holds true for people, you know that there is more to him than meets the eye. Dylan Baker (Philip) the philatel expert who has seen too many worthless stamp collections to care any more is the epitome of nerdish know it all; but below that shell there is clearly a man who has endured heartbreak. And F. Murray Abraham (Sterling) as the wealthy stamp collector and "murky" businessman who lusts for the Mauritius stamps is simply priceless. His passion for his collectible of choice is at once hilarious and compelling and this performance proves that his comedic skills are more than equal to his dramatic chops. The guy's funny. 'Nuff said. You don't want to miss this performance.

Doug Hughes does a fine job directing an amazing cast through a fabulous play. There are layers upon layers here and while we are left with some mysteries, this show satisfies on all levels.

Mauritius is smart, tight, funny and engaging. The 'post office' Mauritius stamp may be a stamp collector's unachievable Holy Grail, but Mauritius, the play, delivers.

Manhattan Theatre Club at
The Biltmore Theatre
261 West 47th Street
running time: 2 hours (includes one 15 minute intermission)

In Previews
Opens September 13, 2007 - November 25, 2007
photo credit: Joan Marcus

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