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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

'Mauritius' is scintillating drama

Special to The Advertiser

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jackie (left, Madeline Ruhl) seeks help from philatelic shop owner, Philip (right, David Starr), as con man Dennis (left, Todd Coolidge) looks on in Hawaii Repertory Theatre's production of "Mauritius."

Hawaii Repertory Theatre, Inc.

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7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3:30 p.m. Sunday

Hawaii Repertory Theatre, Kawananakoa Middle School, 49 Funchal St.


545-7170; info@hawaiireptheatre.org

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There's a real treat waiting in "Mauritius," now in production by the Hawaii Repertory Theatre. Fast-paced and well-acted, it's a contemporary crime-in-progress drama, as collectors with gangster-like appetites get on the trail of a pair of priceless postage stamps.

While you wouldn't expect "gangsters" and "post-age stamps" to appear in the same sentence, unless in a comedy or a farce, playwright Theresa Rebeck makes it work as drama. The plot line is filled with logical inconsistencies, unresolved hints and false leads, centering on a pair of antique postage stamps from the tiny African coastal island of Mauritius. Rebeck strings it along with tight action that sustains tension.

A pair of stepsisters quarrel over a stamp collection that is part of their late mother's effects. Who rightly owns it? What is it worth?

When one of them shows it to a shady philatelic expert, greed introduces a sense of excitement and danger. Could someone meet with real harm? Are the stamps themselves in jeopardy?

The plot plays out with lies, shady meetings, a suitcase filled with cash, explosive language and some violence. Just the thing to keep an audience pulled forward into the action.

Director and designer Brian Lee Sackett takes full advantage of the material with crisp delivery and a turn-table set that changes locales in seconds. Abrupt blackouts and loud African drums increase tension between scenes.

The production also enjoys an excellent cast.

Madeline Ruhl projects a damaged, waif-like quality as the younger sister, but mixes it up with stubborn negotiations and a willingness to gamble fueled by anger and desperation. Todd Coolidge shows us what could happen if Fonzie left "Happy Days" and fell in with a bad crowd. Might he sustain his good-guy motives when up to his ears in outside threats?

David Paul Starr is a crass and mean-spirited stamp expert. Jim Aina is a menacing figure who dabbles in arms-dealing as well as rare postage. Kelly Fitzgerald is the rigid elder sister, whose cold self-centeredness may spring from the same hinted cause that damaged the younger woman.

"Mauritius" plays out as a determined pot-boiler with a satisfying conclusion that may have you debating motives and veiled clues all the way home.