'Mauritius' a change for Bay Theatre

Edgier than previous offerings, but almost everything works well

March 07, 2010|By Mary Johnson | Special to The Baltimore Sun

In Theresa Rebeck's 2007 play " Mauritius," Bay Theatre Company offers an edgy contrast to this season's earlier comfortable comedies, "Sylvia" and "Harvey." To create a variety of exciting theater within this intimate 83-seat space requires rare insight and no lack of courage.

Playwright Rebeck describes the plot on her Web site: "Filled with scams and double-crosses, 'Mauritius' tells the story of two half-sisters vying for the rights of a recently inherited (and dazzlingly valuable) stamp collection. Throughout their farcical escapades, the pair come face to face with a couple of machine-gun-mouthed con artists who ensnare them in their own brand of beguiling trickery."

Bay's production is directed by Steven Carpenter, who writes in his program notes that Rebeck's experience writing for television shows such as "Law and Order" and " NYPD Blue" is reflected in this script, "with double-crossing con men and surprising plot twists, but it is her incisive examination of human behavior and her understanding of the plight of desperate people that make this play more satisfying than any TV drama."

In a post-performance chat, Carpenter voiced his delight with the entire cast and with the play itself.

Everything works well in this Bay Theatre production, including the excellent set designed by Ken Sheats and constructed by Daniel Interlandi. The set transforms from a stamp shop with display case and counter to a coffee shop and later a living room, all rotating with each scene change in less than one minute.

In this excellent cast of five, I would rank Rana Kay's portrayal of Jackie at the top. Her facial expressions convey the youthful insecurity of a needy, seemingly still-teenage girl who masters the art of deal-making and becomes the ultimate survivor, managing to best her male adversaries. Kay has an advantage, since the Jackie character is well drawn in the script as her dying mother's caregiver. She is given her mother's stamp collection in payment, and is pragmatically seeking a buyer.

Somewhat enigmatic is Jackie's genteel older half-sister Mary, who has enjoyed a more privileged childhood, is better educated and returns to help clear out her mother's home and claim the stamp collection as her own. Mary's sentimental claim to the collection and her desire to donate it to a public facility is balanced against her refusing to visit her terminally ill mother and her cold disdain for Jackie.

Karen Novack as Mary captures every complex facet so that the character continues to fascinate and mystify us long after we've left the theater.

Equally enigmatic is Peter Wray's Philip, the stamp expert who owns the shop and initially refuses to look at Jackie's collection. He also dismisses his friend Dennis' evaluation and harbors a long-standing grudge against wealthy collector Sterling.

Danny Gavigan portrays Dennis, who looks at Jackie's stamps and recognizes their value. At first he seems to be an open, friendly guy who wants to help Jackie, but later shows himself as a masterful, manipulative con-game player.

Nigel Reed is convincing as ruthless, wealthy collector Sterling, delivering a fascinating scene where he explains to Jackie "the beauty of the cash deal with no lawyers, no accountants to drive us crazy. That's added value."

Despite the high degree of excellence, this production was not without flaws, including heated exchanges where the actors are too loud for the intimate size of the theater. From my seat in the front row, I found the sound level to be painful at times, and the execution of the fight choreography was awkward.

If you go
"Mauritius" at Bay Theatre, 275 West St., Annapolis, through March 21 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $30 for adults; $25 for seniors and students. Call 410-268-1333 for reservations.

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