Last week's big postage stamp auction in Dallas, featuring nothing but rare images of President Lincoln (some mistakenly issued with Abe's head upside down), was expected to fetch a lofty $2 million. Since 10,000 stamps were on the block, we're talking a net worth of $200 per item. But in Mauritius, the current entry from Cygnet Theatre Company, the stakes are a whopping $1 million for only two stamps—the extremely rare Mauritian one- and two-penny items issued in 1847.
That they say “Post Office” instead of “Postage Paid” is of unparalleled importance to hard-core collectors. That playwright Theresa Rebeck gets so much out of an otherwise innocuous hobby is a serious testament to her broad characterizations. At its core, the show isn't much more than an evening's distraction—but it's a happy distraction, because the cast delivers some good observations about the value we place on perfection (or imperfection, as the case may be). Rebeck's concepts clash with those of director Francis Gercke only rarely—by all means, go take a look at what Gercke and his staff have in store.
Half-sisters Jackie (Jessica John) and Mary (Sandy Campbell) are at each other's throats again, this time over a volume of stamps that may or may not contain those Mauritian rarities. Jackie's in it for the bucks, while Mary's investment is purely sentimental. Neither of them counted on running into a trio of high rollers whose interest in the stamps trumps any regard for the women's lives and limbs.
To non-experts, philately (the rich man's term for “stamp collecting”) probably ranks up there with beekeeping (the poor man's handle for “apiarism”) in order of importance. That's what's so great about Manny Fernandes' turn as Sterling, the international kingpin who matches firebrand Jackie wit for wit in a big-stakes negotiation for the stamps.
Sterling has a sentimental streak that rivals Mary's, and Fernandes makes this wholly believable amid Sterling's almost religious respect for what the items represent. With his distinctive drawl and lean physique, the excellent Jack Missett is limited in his range—but he and his seedy stamp expert Philip are products of the exact same mold. Not necessarily so with Sterling's protégé Dennis (John DeCarlo). DeCarlo has a handle on Dennis' cowardice, but he doesn't tailor it to each situation very well.
John's Jackie wears glasses and has crappy hair—even so, John's still a shade too pretty for the hellcat Jackie. And Rebeck gets a tad winded in the play's final moments, butting heads with the fluidity Gercke's worked so hard to establish. But, for the most part, the story and situations hold up very well, not unlike the prices that some of these simple slips of paper command. This review is based on the opening-night performance of April 11. Mauritius runs through May 10 at Cygnet Theatre's Rolando venue, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. $28-$42. 619-337-1525, www.cygnettheatre.com.Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.