- About the Play
- Behind the Scenes
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by Theresa Rebeck
FEBRUARY 25, 2009 - APRIL 5, 2009"Passionate, mysterious and wildly funny." - Variety
The stakes are high when half-sisters inherit a book of rare stamps that may include the "crown jewel" of the stamp-collecting world. The battle for possession takes a dangerous turn when three rival collectors enter the sisters' world, willing to go to any lengths to stake their claim on the find. Combining the best aspects of Hitchcock, Chandler and Mamet, Mauritius is a gripping blend of sharp comedy and heart-pounding drama that simmers with constant surprise.
Mauritius includes strong language. Not recommended for children under 14.
Interview with Actress Anne Adamsby Meghan Beals McCarthy
November 25, 2008
MBM: How long have you lived in Chicago?
AA: I have been in Chicago almost six years now.
MBM: What is your most memorable Chicago project to date?
AA: Imagining Brad by Peter Hedges, directed by K. Todd Freeman. I got to act off of Audrey Francis (one of the best actresses in the city) and I had the privilege of working with K. Todd who is one of the most passionate directors I have ever worked with, and on top of all that, I got to play a woman who reminded me so much of where I grew up in Texas. When my mom came to see the show she gave me the biggest compliment I have received to date. She said "Yep, we know that woman, don't we darlin'?" The set was a couple of chairs in a tiny store front with a heater that sometimes worked but most of the time didn't, and it was by far one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Acting with your best friend in a part that you have been dying to play while getting directed by a Steppenwolf ensemble member? COME ON! It doesn't get better than that.
MBM: What about Theresa's play excites you most?
AA: How desperate people can be. She has done an amazing job of showing what being desperate does to us and how it affects our judgment. I love that. I love that so much because everyone can relate to being desperate at one point in his or her life. I have felt that way recently and Theresa's dialogue... she gets it. She just gets it.
MBM: Have you worked with Rick before?
AA: No, and I am so excited! Well, actually that's not entirely true. When I first moved to Chicago I took an acting class where you got to work with a different director each week. They would pick a scene for you and then coach you through it. Rick coached me in a scene from Life Under Water by Richard Greenberg. I don't think he will remember that, but that was the first time I met and worked with him. I thought he was fantastic. I remember wanting to please him so much. The next week I saw his production of Orange Flower Water in Steppenwolf's Garage and was blown away. About two weeks after that I saw him act in Man From Nebraska. Once again, I was blown away. So basically, the first two productions I saw in Chicago, Rick was a part of, and I remember thinking, "This city is special. Screw the cold; I'm staying in Chicago." Yeah, I am really blessed to get to work with him.
MBM: Do you have any collections? What do you think is so alluring about stamps? What is the importance or attraction to collecting?
AA: I don't have any collections but I have a few friends with collections and they are very protective of them. It is like their collection is an extension of themselves. I think the allure of collecting something probably stems back to one's childhood or a romanticism about the past. I would imagine a collection would be a reminder of a special time in someone's life, or of someone else they care about.
MBM: What do you admire most about Jackie? Do you see any of yourself in her?
AA: Jackie is amazing. I LOVE THIS GIRL. She is fearless (something I am not but want to be) but she is also lost and insecure. She refuses to be anyone's fool and I love that. She is also extremely savvy, something that is always fun to play. This part is so important to me because it came to me at a time when I felt like no one was taking me seriously professionally. I was angry, hurt, impatient, and focused on turning my life around... basically a lot of the things that Jackie is going through in this play. I respect her because she never plays the victim - something that I am trying to accomplish in my own life.
MBM: Jackie finds herself dealing with some extremely dangerous characters. What gives her the pluck and nerve to fight for what she needs?
AA: SURVIVAL. Jackie will do what ever she can to survive. If it means getting a better life, she will deal with any character as long as they can give her what she needs. It doesn't mean she isn't scared, it just means that she won't let fear overpower her need to be happy.
The Post Office Mauritius
By Leah Cox, Dramaturgy Assistant
Mauritius is a small island five hundred miles east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. To tourists and travelers, it is known for its beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, and intoxicating climate. To philatelists, however, it is known for the one penny and two penny Mauritius, the first two stamps produced from the Mauritian postal service.
There are few items in the philatelic world that have reached the classic status and monetary value of these two stamps. In Northlight Theatre's upcoming production of Mauritius, the characters often refer to them as "the crown jewel of philately." So how did two stamps that came from a little-known island off the coast of Africa become so valuable? Like most stamps worth prodigious amounts, the Mauritius stamps have errors.
In 1847, Mauritius was British-ruled and the stamps commonly used were the one-penny stamps honoring Queen Victoria printed in black ink. Due to the popularity and widespread use of these stamps, plans had been devised to eventually print stamps using colored ink. And due to the whims of the Governor's wife, a rush was put on the order. According to egend, Lady Gomm was throwing a fancy ball in Port Louis, one of Mauritius' most beautiful areas, and she was discontented with the look of her invitations; to make her event special, she demanded that color stamps be used as postage.
These new stamps were engraved by a local man named Joseph O. Barnard and, like the one-penny black stamps, featured a profile of Queen Victoria. On the left side of the stamp, the words "Post Office" were vertically engraved. It wasn't until later, when identical stamps were issued with the words "Post Paid" engraved instead, that the public realized Barnard had made a mistake with the 1847 issue, engraving "Post Office" instead of "Post Paid." Because of this error, the first two stamps issued in Mauritius have become known to collectors and historians as the one penny and two penny Post Office.
Because only five hundred of each stamp were printed, the Post Office stamps are extremely rare, especially in good condition. The combination of the scarcity and the legendary error is what makes these stamps incredibly valuable to any collector. The estimated value of the unused, orange, one-dimensional one penny Post Office is a little more than $1 million while the unused, blue, two-dimensional two penny Post Office is estimated at around $1.1 million. When sold together, the stamps are much more valuable. This was proven in 1993, when Hiroyuki Kanai's infamous "Bordeaux Cover" (the only known envelope containing both Post Office stamps; also called the greatest item in all philately) was sold to an anonymous buyer by auctioneer David Feldman for an unprecedented $3,829,500, the highest amount ever paid for a philatelic item.
The last sale of a Post Office stamp took place as recently as October 2008. One of only three of Lady Gomm's invitations with a one penny Post Office still in existence was sold to Vikram Chand of Singapore. (The other two are not in private hands - one is in the British Library Museum and the second resides in the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II.) Since the deal was a private treaty, the amount Chand paid is undisclosed. However, the previous sale on record for this cover was for $1,460,700 on November 20, 1997.
Of course there is some speculation about the history of the Post Office stamps. Many believe that printing "Post Office" was not an error at all, and that it was simply a revision that "Post Paid" was printed in replacement a year after. The differing theories make the Post Office stamps one of the most well-debated philatelic mysteries. But then again, it is the mysteries, diverging theories, and debated history that makes philately intriguing to begin with.
Anne Adams (Jackie)
Lance Baker (Sterling)
Gary Houston (Philip)
Dan Kuhlman (Dennis)
Suzanne Lang (Mary)
Rick Snyder (Director)
Tom Burch (Scenic Design)
Nan Zabriskie (Costume Design)
Bob Christen (Lighting Design)
Meghan Beals McCarthy (Dramaturg)
Rita Vreeland (Production Stage Manager)
All photos by Michael Brosilow
Photo GalleryClick on any image to start the slideshow
Mauritius' at Northlight: the seedy underbelly of stamp-collecting
THEATER REVIEW: "Mauritius" (three stars)
By Chris Jones | Chicago Tribune Critic
March 7, 2009
We have an old family stamp collection in the house that I'm scared of getting appraised. Dealers in stamps, coins and the like terrify me. I watched one of them try to humiliate my gentle father by throwing his apparently worthless items back across the counter without even looking up. And as a kid, I once walked my pathetic little stamp collection into a dealer, and walked out about a foot shorter.
So the idea of a drama about the seamy, menacing underbelly of the philatelic industry doesn't strike me as even remotely absurd. Sure, Theresa Rebeck's "Mauritius" took some critical lumps on Broadway for being Mamet-lite. And if you tell the neighbors you're on your way to the Northight Theatre to see an edgy, violent drama about a stamp deal gone bad, be prepared for some weird looks.
But the collectibles industry-with its fast-talking, cash-carrying dealers, its all-or-nothing valuations, and its eccentric obsessives-isn't all the faux-scholarly, sweet-talking charm and thrill of discovery you see on Antiques Roadshow. Oh no. It is also populated by some very tough characters. Why else did Mamet set his "American Buffalo" in a second-hand shop?
"Mauritius," which begins with a young woman carrying her stamp collection into a dealer, isn't a great play. But it is a very clever, involving, fast-moving and juicy one. Rebeck, whose plays are invariably enjoyable, totally nails one of the most irritating games played by those who buy pre-owned goods-the refusal to name a price, on the theory that's it always better to have the inexperienced seller come up a figure that can be repudiated. Try asking your local automobile dealer what he'll give you for you car. Ten to one, he'll ask you what you hope to get.
"Mauritius" isn't just about the horrific process of selling potentially valuable stamps.
In this case, the apparent owner of these desirable little slips of paper (a embittered young woman played by Anne Adams) is locked in a battle with her confounding half-sister (Suzanne Lang) over who has the right to the uncancelled prize in a grandfather's legacy. The fights over the various pulls of sentimental value versus cold, hard cash will ring true to anyone who's ever been in the position of dividing up a family member's collection, whatever (or whomever) they may have collected.
But the real guts of the play-which, unlike the works of Mamet, offers a full and relatively even-handed exploration of the two genders in conflict-takes place when Adams' character takes on the irascible owner of the stamp shop (Gary Houston), his hotshot young associate (Dan Kuhlman) and, most notably an international man of dealing mystery (played, in full-on white-collar gangster mode, by Lance Baker).
You have to swallow some contrivances-the price transparency created by the Internet isn't really dealt with satisfactorily and everyone seems remarkably uninterested in the services of auction houses. But Rebeck comes up with good reasons why her characters all want to deal with cash. And you buy most of what goes on.
Rick Snyder's initially forced production, which would have benefited from better fight choreography and a more interesting and extensive set, starts out sketchily and skids too much on the mannered surface of the real human drama. But once the show's hinges belatedly starts to stick, the performances get deeper, the pace gets faster, the ambiance gets more truthful, and the show gets progressively better.
Baker starts to loose the shtick and find a true obsessive. Houston darkens deliciously. The ever-sweet Lang curdles. Kuhlman finds more charm. And Adams, whose very fresh and lively performance here should get this emerging talent plenty of attention, starts to show some quite formidable stuff.
By the second act, it all becomes a great deal of fun. And at Northlight, nobody laughs at your stuff. Or, at least, they hide it well.
Razor-sharp moral tale ideally cast
Terrific twists are fully engaging
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Criticemail@example.com
March 7, 2009
Do not mistake "Mauritius" for a slice of realism. It is not. Rather, Theresa Rebeck's airtight, serrated-edged, "who will end up outsmarting whom?" play -- now at Northlight Theatre in a razor-sharp production expertly directed by Rick Snyder -- is a ferocious moral fable. Meticulously contrived to show human nature at its very worst -- awash in obsession, acquisitiveness, resentment, deviousness and violence -- the drama also might be described as a Darwinian struggle writ large, with its five characters engaged in a ferocious struggle to determine who will prevail.
An Off Broadway hit in 2007, "Mauritius" also is full of strong echoes of David Mamet and his "American Buffalo," with clipped dialogue, baroque locutions, freely flying obscenities and witty little lessons in behavior, psychology and what passes for ethics. But Rebeck also injects a delicious dose of female cunning, rage and humor. And though you will be aware of the artifice of her play every step of the way, you also will be fully engaged in its terrifically nasty twists.
At the play's core is an argument about inheritance, as Jackie (Anne Adams), confronts her older, long-estranged half-sister, Mary (Suzanne Lang), about ownership of a stamp collection. Both women nurse grievances. For years, Jackie cared for their ailing mother on her own, while Mary still bristles at how she was essentially tossed out when their mother married her second husband. Jackie, hungry for financial freedom, is desperate to sell the collection. Mary wants to keep it as a memory of her grandfather and also to thwart her sister.
Jackie's attempt to determine the worth of the collection -- which, as it turns out, contains some valuable stamps, including two from the 19th century British colony of Mauritius -- triggers a heated effort on the part of three men to separate her from her treasure. But Jackie is determined not to get taken.
Philip (Gary Houston) is the depressive expert who owns a stamp shop. Dennis (Dan Kuhlman) is his failed protege with a feel for others' weaknesses. And Sterling (Lance Baker) is the fanatic collector. All five actors are ideally cast and make every second of the play snap, crackle and pop as "the takers" and "the taken" duke it out. It's not pretty, but it emits a pretty irresistible scent of blood.
By Christopher Piatt
Time Out Chicago
There are two rooms on the set of Mauritius; they sit on each side of a wall that rotates on a schmancy turntable: a grody stamp collector's shop up front and a cozy, boring living room in back. Theresa Rebeck's brisk, tidy, kinda dumb, really entertaining domestic caper places a classic Broadway-play archetype in each room.
In the seedy shop, a cranky, eccentric stamp expert and his penny-ante lunkhead assistant harass a distressed, raven-haired girl who comes into their dusty world hoping for an appraisal on some valuable stamps she's inherited. And just when you've decided you're watching Mamet unplugged, the set spins around, the girl comes home to her blond bitch sister, and the two spar in full-Proof dialogue about why the heroine nursed a parent to her deathbed while the hoity-toity one flew the coop. When hard-working bartender Rebeck lets the two formulas crash into each other through the dividing wall, the tart, bitter cocktail hits the spot.
This fair-shake examination of American entitlement and the social etiquette of hustlers is sometimes acted with more adrenalin than specificity. Director Snyder doesn't quite bring the slick, sick precision he did last year over at little Profiles Theatre to the black corporate satire Men of Tortuga. In particular, the complicated, frequently impeccable Baker, stepping far out of his comfort zone into a broad caricature role, takes at least half the evening to disappear completely into the part of an oily, pin-striped tiger shark. But he finds his buffed-wing-tip footing in a kinky negotiation scene to fine effect.
Though leathery veteran Houston commands as the cruel and shabby give-a-fuck libertarian stamp savant, Mauritius is Adams's property. It's exciting to see this storefront artist's first principal role in a pimp mainstream project. But more important, it's also mild civic justice that even with three on-the-make male pricks on stage, her survivor character is the one who gets to bleed from the mouth, tear apart an entire apartment and defend herself from assailants with a lighter. You could probably watch it twice without getting bored.