Cincinnati native Theresa Rebeck’s terrifically engrossing 2007 comic drama “Mauritius” receives an excellent local premiere at the Dayton Theatre Guild.
Sharply staged with subtle nuances by Saul Caplan, “Mauritius” concerns the sibling rift between half-sisters Jackie (a dynamic Amy Brooks) and Mary (a firmly unyielding Teresa Connair) who differ on the sentimental value of a family stamp collection they possess following their mother’s death. In Jackie’s eyes, the rare collection – potentially worth $6 million and containing a one-penny and two-penny “Post Office” stamp printed incorrectly in 1847 on the titular island near Madagascar – is the quick answer to her financial problems, but Mary feels it should be preserved in a museum as a tribute to her late grandfather. This intriguing conflict is the source of the play’s emotionally compelling pulse yet the astutely woven inclusion of three colorful stamp aficionados broadens the material past familial baggage in an attempt to raise its suspenseful stakes while addressing the complex delicacy associated with bargaining and negotiating.
Brooks, in a strikingly meticulous performance rivaling Alison Pill’s turn in the original Broadway production, embodies Jackie with marvelous tenacity and gumption. With casually instinctive yet passionate flair, she transforms Jackie into a formidable force and an impressively quick study into the world of stamp collecting. She also beautifully reveals the hurt and agony set into motion by Mary’s absence as their mother grew ill and during her youth, winningly implying late in the play that Jackie was abused by her father. Still, one of her finest moments, arriving at the end of Act 1 as Jackie and Mary reach a breaking point in their struggle to compromise, is splendidly shared with Connair, who avoids seeming prudish or uncaring in a role that is borderline icy and detached.
Additionally, Geoff Burkman absolutely shines as the foul-mouthed, easily irritable and incessantly stringent Sterling, an intimidating businessman who craves the art of the deal and prefers to call the shots. Burkman’s piercingly calm and cool delivery of Sterling’s enticing monologue about commerce and the stark reality of transactions, in which “the rules become your enemy,” is a magnetic high point. Alex Carmichal is equally convincing as Sterling’s less menacing colleague Dennis. Pat Santucci completes the cast as Philip, an ethically challenged philatelist at the center of one of the play’s juicy twists.
Choosing to live in the past or present is a key concern in this appealing creation from Rebeck, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Omnium Gatherum” who recently wrote the pilot episode for next season’s NBC Broadway-themed series “Smash.” Jackie and Mary’s bickering battle tears them apart, but witnessing their journey is well worth your time.
Mauritius, which opened Friday, May 13, continues through Sunday, May 29 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave. Performances are Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Act One: 54 minutes; Act Two: 53 minutes. Tickets are $10-$17. The play contains adult language. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org