Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Mauritius": ☼ ☼ ☼

As far as Theresa Rebeck's "Mauritius" goes, the worst job in show business must belong to the stage crew at the Magic Theatre. They have only 18 minutes between acts to clean up the set that Zoe Winters has just trashed, though it took no more than three minutes for Winters to strew the stage two inches deep with the contents of her late mother's apartment. Playing Jackie, the nice stepsister, her rage is understandable, because Mary, the evil stepsister (originally played by Arwen Anderson and now by Jessica Kitchens in the show's extension), is a first-class, self-serving no-goodnik.

But Jackie is not Cinderella. Though Mary seems to be all bad, Jackie is hardly the perfect angel, especially once she realizes she is in possession of her step-grandfather's priceless stamp collection, which just happens to contain the "One Cent and Two Cent Post Office" stamps from the nation of Mauritius -- the first postage stamps ever issued.

And handsome princes are hard to find. Enter three men, all bad guys, who want those stamps. A.C.T. veteran Rod Gnapp plays the worst villain, Sterling, who maybe wants to sell those stamps or maybe just exult in having them; Philip, played by Warren David Keith, who seems to be an aging sheep but is actually a cunning wolf; and then there is Dennis. Played by James Wagner, whom we recently saw portray a particularly chilling American officer in 'Betrayed,' Dennis can't decide if he's good or bad, if he's a villain or a comedian. You can't get too mad at him because he's too vapid but you can't like him much either.

Meanwhile, James K. Faerron's set is inventive, with the actors and stage hands scurrying in the dark to make elaborate scene changes; Sara Huddleston's rock and roll sound track makes those scene changes seem like part of the show; and Sarah Sidman's lights keep our attention where it ought to be.

But does the slipper really fit? Is Mauritius a comedy, or a commentary on damaged people? Although this Magic Theatre production of Mauritius has received much well-deserved praise, for this reviewer the bad guys aren't very bad, the good girl isn't very good and the plot is telegraphed a million miles away. Maybe it was just an off night at the post office.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Mauritius' Three Stars. Zoe Winters's Jackie is a standout role and she does her best to bounce off a less than superlative supporting cast, but for an innocent girl Jackie certainly does warm up to a little larceny. Rod Knapp's Sterling gives an excellent and soulful reading of the joy of stamp collecting, along the lines of Paul Giamatti in 'Sideways' -- a guy whose life has not turned out perfectly but who still understands what really matters.

The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, San Francisco
Through June 28

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