Everyone’s a con artist in ‘Mauritius’ at Grossmont College
By Donald H. Harrison
EL CAJON, California — Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius at the Stagehouse Theatre at Grossmont College wins this reviewer’s stamp of approval notwithstanding some reservations over a few technical issues and the use of far more “f-bombs” than really are necessary.
The play will intrigue any philatelist as it revolves around the discovery by a young, seemingly naive woman that an heirloom stamp album contains several of the world’s most coveted postage stamps, including a one-penny stamp and a two-penny stamp from the Indian Ocean island colony of Mauritius, both bearing the image of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria.
The stamps, we learn, are rare because on their left vertical sides they say “Post Office” when “Post Paid” was intended. In the world of philately, errors are typically worth more–and certainly are more interesting– than well-executed stamps. The playwright argues that this may also be true of human beings.
Jackie (Yvette Angulo) may be naive about stamps, but she can recognize a con artist when she sees one, and that’s exactly what almost everyone in the play becomes as the astronomical prices that rare stamps can fetch turn their thoughts to larceny. We’re talking millions of dollars.
Dennis (Jake Hoff), a smooth talker, tries to broker a deal for the quick purchase of the stamps between Jackie and the rich-and-crass Sterling (Kerry Hower). Watching the street-wise businessman and the young woman negotiate is fun and absorbing, since we know both their secrets.
However, two people missing from the negotiations complicate the dealings. Phillip (Ryn Corbell), owner of the stamp and baseball card store where the negotiation takes place, is needed to authenticate the stamps, yet mysteriously fails to show up for the meeting. And though Jackie doesn’t want her anywhere near the discussion, her older half-sister Mary (Kelsey Bavencoff) is the actual owner of the stamps–the little paper pieces of history having been inherited from Mary’s paternal grandfather.
You may guess up to the conclusion just who ends up being swindled and who is the biggest pro as a con artist. Yvette Angulo is highly energetic and appealing as the sister who is so financially desperate she’s ready to deal with the unsavory trio of Dennis, Sterling and Phil. But during her first night performance on Thursday, Oct 4, there were times that Angulo seemed to hesitate too long between lines — making you wonder whether this is what director Steve Schmitz called for, or whether she simply was having difficulty remembering what she was supposed to say next.
Overall, however, Angulo turned in a strong first night performance, and no doubt will do so even more effortlessly as the play continues its run through Sunday, Oct. 13.
Jake Hoff, as Dennis, is convincing as a hustler who knows how to use his good looks to get women to warm to him. And at the beginning of the play, Ryn Corbeil, as Phillip, is so studiously rude to Jackie that, as a stamp collector might say, you just want to coil your fist, perforate his teeth and knock his block off – and it takes a good actor to make you react so strongly. His character remains a suspicious figure through the end.
The Stagehouse Theatre is built in the shape of a “U” around a rectangular stage, and in this production cast members were continually turning their back on portions of the audience. When cast members are at the same time delivering their lines, this puts pressure on the sound designer (Manny Lopez) to mike the stage in such a way that the audience to the rear can still hear the dialogue. Unfortunately, some of the actors — particularly Hower as Sterling and Bavencoff as Mary– at times were unable to project their voices, lessening the play’s impact for at least parts of the audience.
Director Schmitz, in a short talk prior to the play, warned audience members if they are offended by vulgar language, this may not be the play for them. The “F-bomb” as that inelegant word for sexual intercourse nowadays is called, was used more times than I could count, but Schmitz said, almost apologetically, that’s the way Rebeck wrote it.
Craig Everett’s set, with the use of mechanical aids, alternated between Phillip’s stamp and card shop and the messy, box-strewn living room of Jackie’s apartment. Set changes were rapidly accomplished, moving the play along at a good pace.
Tickets information may be obtained from Alexis Popko at the Grossmont College box office at (619) 644-7234.
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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