nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 7, 2007
Theresa Rebeck's new play Mauritius begins with an alarmingly implausible scene. Jackie, a seemingly naive young woman, is standing in the doorway of the office/philatelic showroom of Philip, a surly middle-aged curmudgeon. She babbles stupidly about the stamps she would like to have Philip look at—she doesn't know anything about them, but she thinks maybe they could be valuable—and he rudely refuses to look up from the book he's reading. Now, I don't know about you, but most people who want to do business with someone actually enter the place of business before initiating the transaction...and most people who run a business understand that while many customers are a waste of time all need to be treated with a modicum of respect—at least if they want to stay in business.
Rebeck apparently doesn't know these basic facts of how human beings behave, or at least she doesn't care. I kept trying to suspend disbelief throughout this absurdly foolish play that is her Broadway debut, but she kept coming up with more and more preposterous boners. She's a playwright who seems to dislike her characters, seems to take perverse pride in making them act like cliched denizens of B-movies. In a subsequent scene of Mauritius, Jackie and her sister, Mary, fight over the stamp collection—left them by their late mother, and apparently enormously valuable, with its centerpiece being a pair of stamps so rare that collectors doubt that they even exist. Mary, fully aware of the worth of the stamps and also of Jackie's desire to (from her perspective) steal them from her, drops the stamp album on a table and leaves the room. Huh? (Why has Mary not whisked the album away long ago, and placed it in a safe deposit box, where it clearly belongs?)
Later still, Jackie faces down a tough-guy businessman who may or may not be an arms dealer, somehow browbeating him into paying her $10,000 just to look at the stamps.
I never believed a word of this play, which might have been okay if anything thrilling or stupendous occurred in it: Rebeck is going for a Sleuth/Usual Suspects kind of gasp-inducing surprise ending, but the surprise isn't one and none of the play's five characters ever exhibits that outsized chutzpah/audacity that wins our admiration even as we know they're pulling a fast one.
She introduces a couple of gigantic red herrings in Act One, both of which might explain the motivations of the main characters...and then she fails to provide the reveals that we think we're waiting for in Act Two. Her lack of respect would seem to apply to the audience as well as to her characters.
Doug Hughes does his workmanlike best to make this thing interesting, and I have to admit that many in the audience seemed to get sucked into it. Katie Finneran is the only member of the cast who has something cogent to play (to wit, "the stamps are mine"); Allison Pill is at sea, forced to re-create her character from whole cloth in each scene, because Rebeck has written such an inconsistent role for her. The men—F. Murray Abraham as the aforementioned tough guy businessman, Dylan Baker as the philatelist, and Bobby Canavale as Abraham's finder/stooge—chew scenery forcefully and crowd-pleasingly, although in different styles.
Mauritius, by the way, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean; the title is a kind of red herring itself, for the play has nothing to do with it, except that that's where the stamps in question come from. It's just one random choice that Rebeck has made among dozens in this deeply unsatisfying drama.