Two sisters squabble over stamps in 'Mauritius,' a serviceable morality tale 

8 P.M. Friday-Saturday, through Feb. 6
Carpenter Square Theater
Arena Theatre, Stage Center
400 W. Sheridan
$18, $15 Seniors, military and students

Worth several million dollars, the right postage stamps can almost get a philatelist killed.

In "Mauritius" by Theresa Rebeck, now being presented by Carpenter Square Theatre, Jackie (Holly McNatt) and her half-sister, Mary (Courtney L. Hahne), are heirs to their grandfather's collection, which contains two extraordinarily rare 1847 stamps from the island country of Mauritius.

Jackie wants to sell the collection, but Mary insists on keeping it for sentimental reasons. Jackie takes it to some shady stamp dealers, who are pretty much the philatelic counterparts to the mob. Thus, she is an amateur who gets involved with professionals, and no matter how much spunk she has, it is not a good situation for Jackie.

Rebeck has constructed the type of story in which the audience does not know for sure who is really Jackie's friend and who is her foe. Dennis (Chad Alan Baker) gains her confidence, but he's tainted by association with the sleazy dealers and is not exactly a paragon of postal propriety himself.

The story's tension remains tepid, however, and the play, while mildly interesting, does not particularly grip you by the seat of the pants.

The best thing CST's production has going for it is a fine performance by Todd Clark as Sterling, the chief goon with a menacing demeanor, shaved head and gym bag full of cash. Imagine Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas," but as a stamp dealer, and you'll get the picture. After beholding the Mauritius stamps, Sterling describes the experience as "post-coital." He does seem almost orgasmic in the presence of these philatelic phenoms.

Director Rodney Brazil opts for a highly realistic interpretation of the script, which can always be dicey in the Arena Theatre. He and Caleb Schnackenberg designed the set, which sections the stage into the dealer's shop, a diner and the home of Jackie and Mary's mother.

As with many playwrights who came of age late in the last century, Rebeck writes scenes that are cinematically short at times. The blackouts between them chop up the pace of the first act. At the reviewed performance, an opening curtain that was eight minutes late and a 27-minute intermission certainly did not help.

"Mauritius" boils down to an unadorned morality tale. Greed is bad, but that is a lesson human beings never seem to learn. "?Larry Laneer

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