Michael Aronov and Marin Ireland in Mauritius
(© Eric Antoniou)
Michael Aronov and Marin Ireland in Mauritius
(© Eric Antoniou)
Theresa Rebeck's stints scripting for TV crime dramas such as Smith and Law & Order pay off big-time in her new play, Mauritius, a gimlet-eyed look at the seedy underbelly of stamp collecting. Yes, philately -- that innocent pastime beloved of geezers and geeks -- isn't as genteel as you may believe.

Summoning echoes of both Proof (damaged younger daughter resents the seemingly well-adjusted sibling who escaped the family maw) and American Buffalo (petty grifter tries to pull a con), Rebeck has crafted a caper that's equally comic and captivating. She reveals just enough about her quintet of characters to keep you guessing as to their motives and capabilities, and leaves just enough questions unanswered to keep you mulling long after the curtain has fallen.

Rebeck is aided in the endeavor by a cast that is pure perfection. We meet Jackie (a volatile Marin Ireland) in the dusty offices of P&J Philatelic Co. (Eugene Lee's tin-ceilinged set looks as if it had been lifted intact from a 1940s film noir.) Proprietor Philip (Robert Dorfman) refuses even to look at the album she has lugged in -- at least, not without exacting a sizable fee. Of course, Jackie is hard up or she wouldn't be there, an amateur "lamb" primed for the slaughter. Or so it seems.

In the face of Philip's obduracy, office hanger-on Dennis (the antic Michael Aronov, playing a clumsy conniver with Lotharian leanings) offers his assistance. Is this a routine that the pair has worked out? If so, which pair? We're never quite sure, but one thing is certain: The stakes are mega-high. If Jackie's collection contains what it seems to, the haul could hover in the eight figures.

There's just one hitch: It's not actually Jackie's collection. Her uptight half-sister Mary (Laura Latreille), who has returned to help clear out the family home after their mother's death, claims the album for her own, since it was her grandfather -- not Jackie's -- who amassed it. Latreille does a lovely job limning the hysteria that lurks at the edges of this prissy, superficially "together," odd duck. As Mary alludes to the warnings of numerous friends that she should beware a "financial quagmire," it's difficult to picture just who these might be. It's satisfying to see Mary finally flip out, revealing her true colors.

Jackie is a loner by circumstance, not choice, and her emotional territory is just as emotionally mine-riddled as Mary's. Rebeck uneaeths a rich comic lode in the friction between the half-sisters, in Dennis's efforts to play them off of each other, and in Jackie's confrontation with Sterling (James Gale), a super-rich thug of a collector. With his Cockney accent and his air of ill-contained menace, Sterling is a figure out of Pinter -- and, true to type, he turns genuinely scary.

The outcome that Rebeck wrests from this five-way tug of war is ingenious, a send-them-home-smiling 11th-hour coup. The play is a definite keeper, one that future casts are bound to have fun with; but the current ensemble is so ideal that you'd do well to catch this premiere.