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Monday, September 25, 2023

Life + Arts

Raw emotion infuses play

A two-hour play about two rare stamps becomes the vehicle for the human expression of love, loss and greed in the Alley Theatre’s production of Mauritius.

Written by the Alley Theatre’s veteran playwright Theresa Rebeck, Mauritius tells the story of two stamps considered the ‘Holy Grail’ of philately, or stamp collecting. The stamps, which come from an island off the coast of Africa called Mauritius, are considered to be some of the most valuable in the world.

In the play, Jackie, played by Elizabeth Bunch, has acquired the valuable stamps. After the death of her mother, she tries to sell them to a collector named Philip, played by Jeffrey Bean.’

The casual sale of two stamps, valued at millions of dollars, however, isn’t such an easy act, as Jackie soon finds out. Her sale becomes complicated because of the meddling of her sister, played by newcomer Kelly McAndrew; a shady investor, played by David Rainy; and Dennis, played by Chris Hutchinson.’

As each character discovers the value of the stamps, their true personality is revealed. Emotions run the gamut from anger and sorrow to lust and greed – all for two tiny slivers of decaying paper.

The set is simple. The island of Mauritius is an exotic and beautiful paradise in the Indian Ocean. The play operates in two places: Philip’s shabby stamp store and Jackie’s cluttered living room. In such simple arenas the actors and their emotions own the stage.

From the moment Jackie walks into Philip’s shop, Bunch has her character on edge. Something is wrong and the audience can see it.

Throughout the play, Bunch lets Jackie unravel slowly until she transitions from a naive girl with a book of old stamps to a woman who knows she holds the stuff of legend in her hands.

Hutchinson’s Dennis is brilliant as he fast-talks his way into deal after deal, trying to get a piece of something he’s only dreamed of.

Paired with wonderful performances from McAndrew, Rainey and Bean, the play is humorous and sad at the same time.’

Near the end when all characters are in the same room with the stamps, the emotions are tangible. The actors are breathtaking as it becomes apparent no one is who he or she was when the play began. They all stand in the shabby pawnshop emotionally raw and stripped bare. Here is when the performances truly shine.

It takes a lot to make a play about moldy stamps riveting, and Rebeck is the right woman for the job. Her writing is smart, the dialogue quick and witty.

The way in which the characters yearn for the stamps – she could’ve taken anything and inserted them into their place – power, stocks or oil and the reactions would’ve been the same and just as strong.

The average American isn’t aware of the value of a Mauritius stamp, and by using something most people would’ve thrown away or sold in an estate sale, Rebeck illustrates the relativity of value and power.

Mauritius is real and raw, and the language reflects these emotions. The play runs through May 3 at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave.

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