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A CurtainUp Review

This is my understanding of what it is you want. You want money, yes, that is the primary reason you took the chances you did, to come here tonight. But you want more than that. You want respect, and want recognition for your courage and your determination. Now. I give you that..— Sterling, the highly volatile stamp collector, during a hilarious negotiating session for the Mauritius stamps that ends with his presenting Jackie with a suitcase full of cash.
Alison Pill and Bobby Cannavale in Mauritius.
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
When I add a list of a playwright's previous works to a review, I usually end up re-reading those reviews. If there is any link that connect my Theresa Rebeck list, which dates back to 1996 when I saw Rebeck's adaptation of Rhinoceros and her View of the Dome in one day, it's that each play points to a writer who keeps coming up with original subjects. The only thing repetitious is that the dialogue is consistently smart and often very funny.

Mauritius is no exception. It's a new subject and genre for Rebeck. David Mamet fans may view it as less than original, citing the misprinted stamps from the island of Mauritius that serve as the cynosure for this noirish comedy thriller as a rather obvious variation of the rare Buffalo nickel that fired up the greed of David Mamet's famous foul-mouthed losers in American Buffalo. Bobby Canbavale who happens to be marvellous as the attractive, sexy Dennis, actually reminded me a bit of Chris Noth's excellent Teach in a Berkshire Theatre Festival revival of American Buffalo I saw a few seasons ago. But, to be fair to Rebeck, the addition of the sibling conflict and the larger issues about values it raises, as well as its soupçon of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, makes this more tribute than copycat playwriting.

On the other hand, the flaws in the plot, unlike the flaws that increase the value of the stamps that propel the avarice and scheming behavior of Mauritius' characters do keep this from fully living up to its potential. Fortunately, Ms. Rebeck's combination family drama and con game is so entertaining, the cast so good and the staging so elegant, that it's easy to suspend disbelief about the plot holes (I counted up five major ones on the way home) — at least long enough to just sit back and enjoy the tense, often funny and fast-paced cat and mouse game.

To tell you enough about how the sisterly squabble and stamp scam evolve without spoiling any surprises: Things get off to a confrontational start on the first of John Lee Beatty's three smoothly rotating sets — the shop run by grouchy stamp expert Philip, (Dylan Baker) to which Jackie (Alison Pill) has come to obtain an appraisal of the stamp collection found in her recently deceased mother's apartment. Though Philip won't even look at her stamp book, Dennis (Bobby Cannavale), a handsome young man who happens to be in the shop, does take an interest. Initially, his interest may be mostly in Jackie, but he apparently knows enough about stamps to see a not to be missed opportunity in those Mauritius rarities. The set then swings around to a brief scene in a coffee shop that looks remarkably like an Edward Hopper painting. Here Dennis and Sterling (F. Murray Abraham), his gangster-ish, stamp loving pal, concoct a scam to acquire Jackie's stamps. Another scenery turn-around takes us to the mother's apartment where we learn that Jackie's half sister Mary (Katie Finneran) considers herself the rightful owner of that album, a situation that does little to warm up the already existing coolness between the siblings.

Under Doug Hughes' direction, the twists and turns that take us back to Phil's shop are as funny as they are tense. One scene that's nothing short of brilliant involves the negotiations between Pill and Abraham which features his lengthy lesson in commerce.

It doesn't take a psychologist to see that the flaws that have made the stamps more valuable but have damaged these characters (especially Pill's Jackie). I have no problem and, in fact, found myself admiring the way Rebeck gives us just enough of a hint here and there but leaves us to fill in the blanks. The same can't be said for some of these people's implausible and out of left field actions that would never pass muster with the producers of the TV crime dramas on which she's honed her script writing skills.

Still, it's hard to complain about this handsome a production with such terrific performances— especially Pill's tough little " lamb, " Abraham's chilling Sterling, and Bobby Cannavale's wonderfully sleazy charmer.

Reviews Of Other Plays by Theresa Rebeck
Bad Dates--solo play
The Butterfly Collection
Omnium Gatherum with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros
The Scene
View of the Dome
Water's Edge

By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Doug Hughes
Cast: F. Murray Abraham (Sterling), Dylan Baker (Philip), Bobby Cannavale (Dennis), Katie Finneran (Mary) and Alison Pill (Jackie).
Sets by John Lee Beatty
Costumes by Catherine Zuber
Lighting by Paul Gallo
Original music and sound by David Van Tieghem
Fight director, Rick Sordelet
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.
Manhattan Theater Club,and the Huntington Theater Company at the Biltmore Theater, 261 West 47th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200. Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2 pm. Running Time: 2 hours, with one 15 minute intermission Tickets:$91.50, to $46.50.
Opening, 10/04/07; Closing 11/25/07
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 10/05/07

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