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Theater review: ‘Mauritius’ a tale of duplicity, complicity

As the saying goes, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” It is certainly true in Interplayers Professional Resident Theatre’s production of Theresa Rebeck’s biting play, “Mauritius,” where greed brings out the absolute worst in five people.

The play’s title refers to two exceptionally valuable antique stamps made in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean.

Before the play begins, the set seems to telegraph the off-kilter tone of the play, during which the majority of the action takes place in a stamp dealer’s shop. A tilted upholstered chair in one corner has a missing leg, and the counter display seems dingy. Even the lighting design by Justin Schmidt, with its deliberate patterns of light and shadow, signals that something is not quite right.

When the play begins, Jackie, played deftly by Bethany Hart, enters a stamp dealer’s shop and asks him – in halting speech – to look at her collection.

She is a mousy, nervous girl, pressured by her dire financial situation due to her mother’s recent death. Hart plays this up well with her tousled hair, tired and wide eyes, anxious mannerisms and shaky voice.

While the shop’s owner, Philip (Jason A. Young), won’t look at her stamps, regular customer Dennis, played by Damon Abdallah, will. When Dennis looks at the stamps, it’s clear he sees something, but he doesn’t say. And so the scam begins.

Abdallah is tall and imposing as the slickster who knows an opportunity when he sees one. He delivers his highly intelligent lines super smoothly. “Commerce is always a complicated and nuanced arrangement,” he says. The line reflects the interactions in the play itself.

Dennis arranges for temperamental collector Sterling, played by Brian Edwards, to buy the stamps. Sterling has a propensity for beating people up. He prowls around the stage like a tiger, yet he becomes giddy when he sees the stamps for the first time. While Edwards’ portrayal is good, he needs to be a little more intimidating (think Joe Pesci’s character in the movie “Goodfellas”) so that the other characters fear him, justifying their lack of action when he assaults another character toward the end.

“There are some times in life when everything is a negotiation,” Sterling says at one point. Indeed, this play is a series of negotiations, and each character has his or her turn holding the upper hand.

Director Patrick Treadway does a good job depicting those negotiations visually, positioning the characters in a variety of triangles that always seem to be shifting. And it is fun to watch who has possession of the stamp notebook at any given moment and how it changes hands. The question is: Who will be holding it at the end?

To further complicate the plot, Jackie’s older half-sister, Mary (Sarah Denison), claims the stamps belong to her. Denison, though, doesn’t look older than Hart, and some of her line deliveries seem stilted. Still, as Mary, she antagonizes Jackie mercilessly, and we love to hate her.

Rebeck’s script is as sharp as her characters are cruel. The dialogue’s rhythm is reminiscent of David Mamet’s work, as is her ability to wield profanity in humorous ways. There is the light of comedy in the dark material, and audiences will enjoy the twists and turns the story takes. Are the stamps real? Who will possess them? Who is playing whom? Can there be a happy ending for Jackie, this poor girl who has spent a lifetime being used by others?

Watch and see.

‘Mauritius’ was reviewed Friday night at Interplayers Professional Theatre. The play continues through March 10. Call (509) 455-7529 for tickets.

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