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Value in Defects–the heart of “Mauritius” at Pasadena Playhouse

April 9th, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

Maritius Introduced to philately as a child I developed an understanding of stamp collecting if not a life-long hobby. The notion that defects, irregularities and errors multiplied the value of stamps to astronomical amounts has always fascinated me. I was intrigued to find out how Theresa Rebeck incorporated this into Mauritius which made its West Coast premiere at The Pasadena Playhouse (www.pasadenaplayhouse.org) on Friday, April 3. Part taught thriller, part multi-leveled family drama, part comedy the show engaged the opening night audience from start to finish.

All but one of the talented five-character ensemble were making their Pasadena Playhouse debut under the capable direction of Jessica Kubzansky who took a break from her Co-Artistic Director duties at The Theatre @ Boston Court. Half sisters Jackie (Kristen Kollender) and Mary (Monette Magrath) separated by an age gap, life experience and much more are brought together upon the death of their mother. Conflict centers around a collection of stamps laid claim to by both sisters. Enter the aloof stamp collecting store owner Philip (John Billingsley—Star Trek: Enterprise, The Others, Prison Break), charming con artist Dennis (Chris L. McKenna—In & Out, Art School Confidential) and oh so shady “businessman” and passionate stamp collector Sterling (Ray Abruzzo—Boston Legal, The Sopranos). Everyone wants a piece of the uber priceless One Penny, Two Penny Post Office stamps.

In Mauritius Rebeck displays a distinct talent for dialogue, honed by her long award winning career writing plays (Loose Knit, The Family of Mann, Spike Heels), television shows (Dream On, Maximum Bob, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, NYPD Blue) and her first novel (Three Girls and Their Brother). Sometimes it sizzles, sometimes it stings, often it stimulates, offering each character the opportunity to display different facets and flaws.

Every actor contributed to a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. Kollender’s character had the greatest growth arc. She started out naïve and irritating and evolved through the course of the action into a more savvy if no less desperate self. She definitely won me over and I was rooting for her. Magrath’s performance hinted at hidden hurts that drove her unbending beliefs. We don’t know exactly what they were, but we know they exist.

Having been a fan of Billingsly for some time, it was a pleasure to see him bring his considerable abilities to the stage in a performance that seamlessly displayed Philip’s snobby and fearful contrasts. McKenna made Dennis the perfect rogue you love to hate as his character went through a few changes of heart. Last but by no means least, I admit that Abruzzo was my favorite as he revealed that hard-assed negotiator Sterling had a wacky marshmallow interior when it came to his passion. It was a joy to witness his first contact with the One Penny Two Penny stamps.

This is the sort of production I like to see at the end of the run as well as the beginning. Rich writing from Rebeck and the skill of the actors will undoubtedly lead to the discovery of even more nuances and depths than portrayed on opening night.

Mauritius is an excellent continuation the Playhouse’s celebration of Women: The Heart and Soul of Theatre with lots of twists and turns. It performs Tuesday to Sunday through April 26. Tickets are $32-$67. Call 626-356-7529 or visit www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.

By Candyce Columbus

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