Collectors of postage stamps don’t seek perfection. When something is off, that adds individuality and value. Hence the conflicts that make Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius, currently onstage at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, a compelling piece of theater.
Mauritius is about two half-sisters, Jackie (Sara Mackie) and Mary (Annie Fitzpatrick), in a tug-of-war over two extremely valuable stamps. They are aided and abetted — not to mention frustrated and flouted — by three stamp collectors: arrogant expert and storeowner Philip (Buz Davis), smarmy and opportunistic amateur Dennis (Michael G. Bath) and rapacious businessman Sterling (Dennis Parlato).
Errors make stamps valuable, Dennis observes, and then adds, “That’s kind of my theory about people.” Apparently playwright Rebeck, a Cincinnati native, shares that thought.
Each character in her rock ’em, sock ’em two-act show has flaws that add texture. Jackie is a slacker wrapped up in comic books; Mary is uptight and emotionally distant. Their recently deceased mother shaped both. (We know her only through her fussy, kitschy living room, designed by Brian c. Mehring, but it’s obvious she left a lot of emotional loose ends.) Mom offered needy Jackie the stamp album, thinking it might have value. Mary lays claim through her stamp-collecting paternal grandfather, not Jackie’s ancestor.
The men exacerbate this conflict. Philip bears an ancient grudge against Sterling, a no-holds-barred businessman used to getting his own way on his own terms. Dennis is dying to make a score, no matter what manipulation is required. No one is perfect, and the cast brings these colorful characters to life. Mackie is frenetic and desperate; Fitzpatrick is controlling. Bath is smarmy and full of double-talk, Davis aloof and selfish and Parlato is a cynical caricature — and a blast to watch.
Mauritius keeps you guessing as characters make errors judging one another. Those flaws — just like the stamps they want to cash in on or possess — give the play its tense, dramatic momentum. But the errors stop there. With D. Lynn Meyers’ sure-handed direction, there’s not a mistake in this wicked production.
MAURITIUS, presented by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through April 5. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.