Group: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
Dates: April 23, 24, 25
Tickets: $18; contact 314-367-0025 or www.westendplayers.org
Story: Jackie has not had an easy life. Besides scraping by financially, she recently has been caring for her terminally ill mother. Following her mom’s death, she returns home to go through her late mother’s belongings with her estranged stepsister, Mary. Jackie hasn’t much interest in what’s there, nor in mending fences with Mary, whom Jackie considers to have abandoned the family and is only returning now to share in what inheritance might be available. That’s a point of contention, too, since their mother left no will.
What she did leave, though, amidst the debris of her life is a book of stamps that for Mary holds sentimental value, since it was handed down by her grandfather. To Jackie, it represents possible financial merit, and she takes it to a local stamp shop owner referred to her by a comic book maven. The crotchety owner, Philip, won’t even take the time to look, but his accomplice, Dennis, offers to peruse the collection. What he finds are what may be two original ‘mistake’ stamps from the island of Mauritius, circa mid-19th century. Are they truly originals? If so, they’re worth a fortune, and Sterling, a ruthless baron of sorts who is an acquaintance of Philip and Dennis, wants them for his own collection, regardless of the price. If not, someone may be conned along the way into shelling out lots o’ money, and dabbling in danger, for little of value.
Highlights: First produced in 2006 and premiered on Broadway in 2007, this two-act drama by Theresa Rebeck, a one-time writer on the “NYPD Blue” TV series, has a lot to offer in terms of a nifty plot and deft story-telling. Under the loving direction of Sean Ruprecht-Belt, the current production by West End Players Guild brings that troupe’s 99th season to an engaging conclusion. While the performances are erratic, in this case the play’s the thing, and an intriguing one at that, although character development is too sketchy.
Other Info: While the opening night presentation seemed often shaggy and awkward, the plot of “Mauritius” is engaging enough to look past production glitches. The action takes place in two locales on Ken Clark’s tidy set, primarily the seedy storefront of stamp expert Philip, a cluttered mess of filing cabinets, a dumpy side table for coffee and a depressing table where Philip spends most of his time frowning and brooding about Sterling’s previous bewitching of Philip’s ex-wife.
The other setting is the squalid little home of Jackie and her mother. Both areas are filled with props by Renee Sevier-Monsey that underscore their forlorn appearances, while Sevier-Monsey’s dim lighting accentuates the shabby goings-on. Colleen Heneghan’s costumes and Chuck Lavazzi’s sound design contribute to the overall, depressing effect.
None of the characters is particularly appealing, and under Ruprecht-Belt’s direction none of the players especially stands out, although each has his or her moments of definition. Charles Heuvelman’s Philip mainly glowers and broods, and Allison Hoppe’s Mary grows wearisome in her endless reveries about her grandfather, although each has times when their interpretations make some sense.
Sarajane Alverson seems too often strained and petulant in her portrayal, although much of that again is with her unsympathetic character. Matt Hanify as Sterling frequently is over the top and out of control, like a portrayal on loan from a David Mamet work. His speech, however, to Jackie on why she should take his generous offer for the stamp collection is a high point in clarity of both logic and emotion. As Dennis, Stephen Pierick offers the most well-rounded characterization, showing us both the small-time hustler’s avarice as well as his heartfelt concern for Jackie.
Despite its choppy, staccato delivery, West End Players’ rendition of “Mauritius” is a good, old-fashioned ‘ripping yarn’ that keeps you guessing while it entertains.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.