BEAUMONT, Texas — When Jackie enters a seedy stamp shop to ascertain the value of her stamp collection, she sets in motion a whirling series of interactions that play out like beautifully choreographed combats, with each character in the five-person ensemble thrusting and parrying for the upper hand. Do the stamps have value? And if so, value to whom?
Lamar University’s production of “Mauritius” by Theresa Rebeck, crackles from the opening scene to the last. Much credit goes to guest director Carolyn Johnson for her sure handling of the piece, which is tightly paced, never allowing the audience to settle on the side of any particular character.
However, I am sure Johnson will acknowledge that a director’s first, and most important, job is selecting the cast, and Johnson picked a dandy. The always impressive Sydney Haygood plays the “damaged” Jackie, who has inherited the stamp collection following her mother’s death. Haygood inhabits her character brilliantly, showing us her vulnerability and desperate longing to escape her life, and the steel to fight for something more. She just hopes the stamps have some value to dig her out of the financial hole that is her mother’s estate.
The fly in the ointment is her step-sister Mary, wonderfully played by Chloe Sullivan, who left the family when Jackie was young, never to return until her mother’s dying days. The stamps are her paternal grandfather’s, so she claims the inheritance on sentimental grounds and would never sell them. Mary seems to be all sweetness and light, in sharp contrast to Jackie’s broken bitterness, but when it comes to the stamps, she reveals a steely side that is not quite so sisterly.
When the crusty stamp shop owner Phil, played by Chris Shroff, cannot be bothered to look at the stamps for less than a $2,000 consultation fee, Dennis, played by Eric Rozell, agrees to take a look. Rozell plays the perfect sleazy hanger-on, the kind of guy who is always just there, on the periphery, looking for a moment to take advantage of someone. We see on his face that he knows there is something good in the collection — the “Mauritians” of the title — something worth money to someone. And Dennis is the type of person who will make sure he gets his cut, morals be damned.
Dennis stalks Jackie, following her to her home, where he gets in the middle of a domestic squabble between Jackie and Mary. From there the plan is to set up a deal with Sterling, played with brooding, menacing, gangster-like entitlement by Ed Seymour.
Rebeck doesn’t bother us with an abundance of details. Sterling makes his money in a “murky” way. How much are the stamps worth? No one ever says. Why is Jackie damaged? Does it matter? How much is offered and how much is asked? That would tip one’s hand too much.
Johnson has taken another risk that pays off. The actors, being college students, are technically young for the parts, yet Johnson resists the urge to age them up with make up. When Phil talks about brooding over an incident eight years in the past (also never explained) we just believe it, because Shroff completely inhabits the character. How old is Sterling? Old enough to make a lot of money because Seymour is Sterling so we believe it.
This is as good a production as I have seen in 25 years of watching Lamar theater. If this was a professional show I would feel that I had got my money’s worth and then some.
From the set to the direction to the acting, this was a professional production. My only complaint is the short run. This production deserves more than four performances. There was a good crowd Friday and I hear Thursday’s opening night was a sellout. These students deserve more than the ridiculously short runs. If there was a second weekend I would certainly see it again.
“Mauritius” is an absolute gem, and you can’t “lick” it.
The show runs through Sunday, Oct. 8 at 2 p.m.