Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius has received a fine production by the Naples Players. The plot of this contemporary play revolves around a pair of 19th century stamps issued by the island nation of the title. The ownership, the provenance, the genuineness of the stamps are all at issue. The human dealings, also, are full of doubtful situations and subtle surprises.
At times, it seems that this is going to be a play about the effect of childhood trauma on adult lives and relationships. But the young trauma victim never tells exactly what the trauma was and the playwright leaves us to wonder. The play sometimes seems to be principally a plot-driven heist story, the story of a con within a con. It certainly is that in part, but not at its essence.
At other times, the play veers into broad comedy or family melodrama. A gangster character has a soft spot for the aesthetic beauty of stamps. The playwright might have leaned on this trait to turn the gangster into a stock comic character or relieve him of his brutal nature; instead she steers away from both sentimentality and caricature. Another character, one of a pair of sisters who finds the stamps, stakes her questionable claim to the valuable assets with absolute certainty. She is an unlikeable, greedy, self-righteous, self-deluding woman, and one longs to see her get her comeuppance. She does not, at least not to the extent one would like. This is rigorous playwrighting.
The cast does extraordinarily well, as an ensemble and individually. Dede Brownlee, as the younger of the two sisters, shows us a woman who is at times unsure and stumbling, at times bold and competent - not a transformation -- but a real person with more than one dimension. John McKerrow doubles as director and leading man. He is a self-assured actor and is suitably charming in the role of Dennis, though one feels that the character’s superficiality might be more interesting if Mr. McKerrow dug a little deeper. The character actors give this production its depth and texture. Bill Bresnan, as the gangster/collector, is very strong. Val Kuffel, as the store owner, seems as if he has been playing this part forever. Most notably, Beverly Canell as the older, self-righteous sister, inhabits the role. She elicited in this viewer the same anger and frustration that one would feel with a difficult family member of one’s own. She makes one forget at times that she is an actor playing a role.
Matt Flynn (sets) and Jeff Weiss (lighting) practically work miracles with the small space at the Tobye Studio.
This is the latest in a line of productions by our local companies of interesting lesser-known plays. Thanks to them for expanding our horizons and showcasing these works so ably.