Watching the Langhorne Players’ production of MAURITIUS felt like being in a seedy off-Broadway theater, watching real method actors sort through a whole range of emotions. It was like finding a rare stamp among a collection of regular first-classes. It was the first time in a long time I got caught up in a play, and actually had to remind myself to be objective.
Not only is this play entertaining, but it’s also educational. I laughed, almost cried, even wanted to slap some characters across the face (luckily, that had already been arranged). Plus, now I feel I can have an informed conversation about stamp collecting. However, from all the negotiations and confrontations that go on regarding two very important stamps, it seems like it could be a very dangerous hobby.
Caught up in all of this are two half-sisters, Jackie (played by Emily West) and Mary (played by Heather MacHenry). Right away I could sense the vulnerability in Jackie and the selfishness in Mary. Many make the mistake of underestimating Jackie and try to take advantage of her, but little do they know, Jackie has many other sides as well. Emily West does a superb job of showing each complicated dimension as she took the audience along for the ride. Mary, on the other hand, seems to only have one real side, and it’s not an honorable one, even though she constantly preaches about doing what’s right and fair. Heather MacHenry’s performance had me hating Mary, and actually smiling a bit when she finally got what she deserved, right across her face.
As for the men of the play, the so-called cunning masterminds of the stamp world (no trace of nerdiness there), they show their own true colors whether they want to or not. We first meet Philip (played by Aaron Wexler), a highly recommended stamp shop proprietor who charges an obscene amount of money just to look at a single stamp. He engages in a sort of good cop, bad cop stamp reviewing scenario with Jackie and shop loiter, Dennis (played by Brian Kelly). Dennis comes to Jackie’s rescue, as the good cop, when he offers to take a look at her collection after Philip refuses. This sends Philip into a whirl of rage and amplifies his condescending tone. Dennis is able to keep his cool, and makes himself look a lot more likable, as short lived as this may be.
Both Wexler’s and Kelly’s years of theater experience became abundantly apparent with their natural stage presence and ability to create believable multi-dimensional characters. Aaron almost made Philip bipolar with his sudden outbursts and calm deceitfulness. I couldn’t decide whether to love or hate Dennis as Brian Kelly portrayed him as both sensitive and conniving, but always with a hint of charm.
In Act 1, Scene 2, we meet Sterling (played by John Shanken-Kaye) who turns out to be the Tony Soprano of stamps,. His slow and calculating way of describing how a deal would go down had me convinced. As smooth a talker as Sterling was, he apparently never had his mouth washed out with soap. It’s after his first scene that murmurs of “too much profanity” trickle through the audience. We were warned about the cigarette smoking in the show before it started, but it seems like more people were concerned about the language. At first, it did feel a little forced, like they were just cursing for the sake of cursing. Once the actors got comfortable, the F-bombs started to fall more freely, and frequently.
I should point out, that of all the community theaters in the area, Langhorne Players has a reputation for grittier shows. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows flowing from the stage. Given the quality of the shows and the actors that are cast, I believe the bold dramas are another reason why people travel to the Spring Garden Mill.
Even though Bucks County is way off-Broadway, it’s good to know we can get the same caliber of talent without having to travel out of state. Thank you, Langhorne Players cast and crew, for continuing to produce exceptional performances, and not giving a damn about getting a little dirty.
by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Marie Maginity
April 15 – May 7, 2011
The Spring Garden Mill
Route 332 (Richboro Road)
Newtown, PA 18940