Friday, October 05, 2007

Did Mauritius Merit Stamps Of Approval?

Did Mauritius Merit Stamps Of Approval?

Last evening, Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius opened at Broadway's Biltmore Theatre. The critics have weighed in with mostly lukewarm reviews, and more than one has compared Rebeck's efforts to those of David Mamet.

Praising Mauritius as a "ripping good play," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News offers perhaps the most laudatory review of all: "Doug Hughes (Doubt) directs, and his mint-condition production made me gulp twice. First, 10 minutes into Act I, when John Lee Beatty's wondrous set shape-shifts and gooses the play to life. Second, 10 minutes before intermission, when Jackie screams about sprouting 'bug wings, the kind that move really fast' and shows how disturbed she is. I can't recall being so eager for intermission to end. In (Rebeck's) Broadway debut, she keeps things lean and mean, while exploring a provocative parallel."

Labeling the work an "entertaining play," New York Post's Clive Barnes offers a two-and-a-half star review: "The play's conceits -- that any dealer would be trusted to vouch for a stamp's authenticity just from looking at it, and that any collector, however rich, however nutty, would accept such judgment without any details of provenance -- is ridiculous. So it all depends on the writing -- and Rebeck is nifty in catching the criss and cross of convincing dialogue -- the staging, and even more on the acting. Doug Hughes' direction, little helped by John Lee Beatty's bland settings, is as expert as ever, applying a certain needed crisis control to a play often threatening to spiral into bombast."

Deeming it a "deftly formulaic play," The New York Times' Ben Brantley is rather tepid: "[T]he production mostly has the ersatz air of an expertly drawn blueprint on tracing paper. Directed by Doug Hughes, Mauritius is neatly structured, fleetly paced, handsomely mounted and engagingly acted....Ms. Rebeck knows that teasing ambiguity is the key to holding an audience’s interest in a play like Mauritius....But Ms. Rebeck never really makes good on the promises of her atmospheric dialogue, with its talk of the nature of obsession and how it is the errors that make people, like stamps, of interest."

Allowing that the show is an "intermittently diverting mash-up of con game and domestic drama," Eric Grode of The New York Sun laments: "The labyrinthine plot hinges on the musty world of rare postage stamps, where mistakes (upside-down airplanes and the like) do indeed boost the value, and the inference is that Ms. Rebeck's quintet of schemers similarly benefit from their imperfections. But Ms. Rebeck, a prolific playwright making her Broadway debut, hammers this metaphor with a doggedness that draws unwelcome attention to her own plotting gaffes and ungainly speeches. In the process, she and director Doug Hughes squander a strong cast and allow the play's twists and turns to spin a promising narrative into a series of credulity-straining confrontations."

Calling Mauritius "slick, unconvincing," Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press finds at least one point of praise: "Nobody can do menace quite like F. Murray Abraham, a man born to inhabit sinister. The actor expertly demonstrates how in Mauritius....Abraham isn't even the main character, but his formidable presence dominates the evening's convoluted action....Rebeck's style is more diffuse (than her other works), diluted by the uncertainty of the play itself. Its unwieldy plot veers from a David Mamet-like caper (complete with a flurry of four-letter words) involving a rare stamp collection to a soggy tale of two quarreling siblings to the intriguing interaction between two of the play's more off-kilter characters. And director Doug Hughes has a hard time corralling all three parts into a credible whole."

I'll be offering my own SOB Review over the next few days. Tickets are on sale for this limited run through November 25.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Theresa Rebeck Collects First Broadway Opening Night With Mauritius (October 4, 2007)
From Manhattan To Mauritius (June 28, 2007)
Well, Well, Well, If It Isn't Boston... (June 9, 2006)

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