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Review of reviews: Stage

Mauritius is a heart-pounding drama about the unlikely subject of stamp collecting, said Joe Dziemianowicz in the New York Daily News.

MauritiusBiltmore Theatre, New York(212) 239-6200

**

Mauritius is a heart-pounding drama about the unlikely subject of stamp collecting, said Joe Dziemianowicz in the New York Daily News. When two sisters struggle over rare stamps left by their mother, “old grudges surface, punches are thrown, and Survivor-like alliances are forged before the tale tears to a clever and satisfying close.” The play marks playwright Theresa Rebeck’s Broadway debut after a long career off-Broadway. She’s always excelled at slick dialogue and bold characters, but here uses a crisply defined plot to explore a fascinating theme: “Imperfections give stamps value, but people, not so much.” The bitter rivalry of the sisters, played by Katie Finneran and Alison Pill, and the intrigue with shady philatelists add up to a “ripping good play.”

Too bad it’s someone else’s play, said John Lahr in The New Yorker. “Mauritius is, in essence, David Mamet for girls.” Mamet’s breakthrough, American Buffalo, was set in the world of coin collectors. Rebeck not only borrows the milieu, but “channels Mamet’s rhythms and his comic tropes of linguistic self-inflation.” Yet where Mamet shows how characters’ desires drive their behavior, the motivations of Rebeck’s schemers remain vague. “Where Mamet’s play was an act of penetration, Rebeck’s is an act of prestidigitation, a confidence trick.” She does build some suspense over the question of whether the all-important stamps are even real. But it becomes clear that “the only fake here is the play.”

So Theresa Rebeck isn’t David Mamet, said Linda Winer in Newsday. Who is? Rebeck’s play may be “neither original nor surprising. It is, however, extremely enjoyable,” perfectly cast and sharply performed. Pill, as the younger sister, “has a guarded innocence and a China-doll face that permit men to underestimate her guile, her psychological smarts, and her desperation to get free.” Bobby Cannavale, who won an Emmy on Will & Grace but also excels onstage, makes a charming black-market hustler, and F. Murray Abraham, as a menacing arms dealer/stamp collector, “punctuates his speech with such poetic dirty talk that, after a while, we begin to suspect what the initial letter represents in the actor’s name.” If Mauritius is a rip-off, it’s an awfully good one.

The Home PlaceGuthrie Theater, Minneapolis(612) 377-2224

****

Playwright Brian Friel brings the past to vibrant life by exploring timeless themes, said Quinton Skinner in Variety. The Home Place, now in its North American premiere at the Guthrie Theater, follows a man’s dawning understanding of social inequity and realization of the futility of his apparently powerful position. Friel takes us to 1878 Ireland. Simon Jones portrays Christopher Gore, one of “the class of Anglo-Irish landlords who clung to their lands like so many colonial occupiers.” Christopher clings just as tightly to the attractive domestic servant played by Sarah Agnew, and seems the apparent picture of rapacious authority. Yet as we learn more of County Donegal, we see far worse examples of exploitation and racism—and Christopher sees them, too. “Jones plays Christopher as a man aware of the horrible contradictions before him but constitutionally incapable of making things right.”

Friel and director Joe Dowling immerse us in a foreign time and place, said Dominic P. Papatola in the St. Paul, Minn., Pioneer Press. “On the surface, The Home Place is a play of atmospheric stillness with seemingly tangential ornamentation—a children’s choir fills the air in the distance, doomed trees on the property are marked with whitewash for removal.” This slow accretion of detail adds necessary verisimilitude to the play, as “Christopher’s journey from noblesse-oblige certainty to the pit-of-the-stomach panic of a boy lost” supposedly takes place in a single day. Among the cast, Charles Keating and Samuel Finnegan Pearson sparkle in small roles. But Jones and Agnew form the heart of The Home Place. She “counterpoints his desperation by becoming calmer and more centered, so that the final, lingering image of the play is an unexpectedly heart-rending pieta.”

The week’s other openings

ChicagoA Steady Rain Chicago Dramatists, (312) 633-0630

Keith Huff’s fascinating study of a corrupt Chicago cop and his alcoholic partner creates two instantly convincing working-class characters, said Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. Randy Steinmeyer’s and Peter DeFaria’s performances are both “intensely sympathetic and, on occasion, thoroughly repellent.”

SeattleHalcyon DaysSeattle Public Theater, (206) 524-1300

Steven Dietz’s 1991 satire of America’s invasion of Granada seems more timely than when it premiered, said Joe Adcock in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Unsubtly directed but excellently acted, Halcyon Days is “like a two-hour, live action, three-dimensional Doonesbury cartoon strip.”

New YorkThree Mo’ TenorsLittle Shubert Theater, (212) 239-6200

This show, “essentially an extended concert with a few theatrical flourishes,” has attracted crowds nationwide, said Claudia La Rocco in The New York Times. There’s not much opera, but lots of blues, gospel, and pop. “But something for everybody guarantees at least one thing that everyone will hate.”

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