Back in 2011, Alan Rickman was interviewed about his starring role in one of Theresa Rebeck’s plays, and said, (and I’m forced to paraphrase because I can’t find the interview for the life of me), that he thought particularly highly of Rebeck’s dialogue, allowing that, yes, it’s witty and it’s comic, but it’s also as musical and complex as any Elizabethan monologue. Nailing the dialogue in a Rebeck play is not by any means easy, and I’m delighted to say that the five actors in the Tongue In Cheek Theatre’s revival of Rebeck’s “Mauritius” all do it seamlessly and beautifully.
“Mauritius” tells the story of two sisters, actually half-sisters, dividing the belongings of their late mother. The situation is fraught, as those situations often are, but in this particular case, among the unpaid bills, the costume jewelry, and the unutterable sadness and resentment, sit two perfect specimens of the most sought after, and valuable, stamps in the world; the one penny and two penny Post Office stamps from the Republic of Mauritius. As with a lot of collector’s items, what they’re worth is just about what a serious collector would be willing to pay for them, but as we learn over the course of the play, the seller of the world’s most sought-after pieces of gluey paper could reasonably expect to receive millions.
The tug o’ war over these magnificent specimens pits Jackie, independent, desperate, and resentful that she, alone, was left to care for their mother through cancer, against the tightly wound Mary, whose certitude that the stamps belong to her because they were passed down from her paternal grandfather is absolutely unshakeable, although probably not legally actionable in the way she seems to assume. Jackie is played with deeply compelling, rock-and-roll rough/cool by Emily Nash, and the part of Mary, which could devolve, in the wrong hands, into simply an uptight villain, is rendered with sensitivity and depth by the inimitable Jake Lipman. Jake, as she often does, is doing quadruple-duty here, not only playing a lead role in the piece but also directing, and functioning as Producing Artistic Director and Production Designer.
The rest of the cast are equally top flight; Derek Long as Dennis, the love interest and slick, charming stamp-pimp, is loads of fun to watch. The very-skilled Kurt Bardele plays the role of Philip, owner of the musty philatelists haven, with the requisite reverence for his stamps and joy of his profession, without making Philip too stuffy or silly for us to connect with. And Michael Vincent Carrera is at once seductive, menacing, and utterly sympathetic as Sterling, the would-be buyer of the precious Mauritians; it’s just as easy to imagine Sterling becoming teary-eyed at the sight of these precious objects of his desire as it is to believe he is, in fact, mostly involved in dealing munitions and can become casually violent when challenged.
I’d also like to mention that I did see “Mauritius” on Broadway back in 2007, and while I believe that Theresa Rebeck and other female playwrights need to take up residence on Broadway far more often, if only to financially support them properly and in the manner they deserve, there is also something to be said for seeing a play like this one in a more intimate setting. Watching five actors wrestle an emotional question to the ground, the way they do in “Mauritius,” is exciting and kind of blissfully unnerving when you’re close enough to the actors to see their eyes.
The show has finished its run, but if you will indulge me for a few words more, I’d like to say something about indie theatre here in New York: it’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s hard to pull off. It’s even hard just to make it happen at all. Jake Lipman’s Tongue in Cheek Theatre has been making independent theatre happen for ten years now, continuing on a mission to feature comic plays, to showcase the work of female playwrights, and of male playwrights who create strong and numerous roles for women, and to provide a bit of contrast in a theatre scene that sometimes feels very heavy on the “heavy” side of things. Brava.
So if you’re looking for theatre that’s funny without being frivolous, and joyous while still being thematically rich and complicated, look no further than TIC. And please check out their website at: http://www.tictheater.com/