Putting a Stamp on the Theatre

When I was a kid, I had many hobbies. One, which I picked up from my father, was stamp collecting. My dad collected first day covers, and I had a pretty good US collection (and a smattering of foreign). Starting with my 1965 Scott Specialized album, and adding pages I made on my one through the mid-1990s (when the hobby just got too expensive to keep up), I slowly built my collection. Now, I never did anything fancy: yes, by the end I was collecting pane sheets vs. individual stamps, but I was still mounting stamps using hinges, not real mounts.

Stamp collecting today seems to have become the provance of older folks: youth today is less interested in stamp collecting. Perhaps that is due to the cost, but I think it is more due to the change in society: who uses stamps these days. If we mail something at all, we use pre-printed postage. If we do use a stamp, it is self-adhesive, meaning one can’t soak it off the envelope as one could in the old days. The value isn’t there either: since the 1960s we’ve printed stamps by the millions, and finding older stamps is far too easy, making the cancelled stamps worth far less than their face values.

I mention all of this because last night we went to the Pasadena Playhouse to see the play “Mauritius” (written by Theresa Rebeck). “Mauritus” tells the story of a stamp collection, and of two particular stamps: the 1p and 2p Post Office Mauritus stamps of 1847.

The story goes like this: Upon the death of her mother, Jackie (Kirsten Kollender (pic)) has acquired a stamp collection. She knows nothing about stamps, and her comic book store friend directs her to visit Philip (John Billingsley). Philip waves her off — he’s seen too many worthless collections — but another patron in the store, Dennis (Chris L. McKenna) looks at it. He notes a few interesting stamps (such as a Inverted Jenny), but tells her there isn’t much in the collection. In reality, he has seen that the collection contains two perfect 1p and 2p “Post Office”s — which are worth millions — and he thinks he can get them from the girl for a song. He goes to his friend, Sterling (Ray Abruzzo), who lusts after the stamps, and concocks a plan to get them. Dennis then goes to visit Jackie (he followed her home), and finds her at the home of her mother, cleaning up the remains of the house with her sister, Mary (Monette Magrath). He confirms that the stamps exist, and learns of the conflict between the sisters — and that the stamps may actually be Mary’s, given to her by her grandfather who collected them with her). The rest of the story concerns itself with how Sterling attempts to get his hands on those stamps, with Dennis’ help… how Jackie plays Dennis… and how Mary and Philip play Jackie in turn. As for who get plays in the end… I’ll leave that for you to watch and find out.

The acting in this was top-notch: I especially enjoyed the fact that much of the acting wasn’t just the spoken word — it was in the small facial expression and reactions. These nuances are what people do, and what make people fun to watch. No one does this better than John Billingsley, who you might recall as the doctor on Enterprise. His rumpled appearance belies his clever craft: he is just remarkable with a turn of expression or phrase. Also joyous to watch was Kirsten Kollender as Jackie, who gave off a youthful naivete… but also was tough as nails in her negotiations with Sterling. Initially coming off as your typical college girl off the street, you learned there was something tough and damaged under the cute exterior. Speaking of Sterling, Ray Abruzzo (Little Carmine in The Spranos) kept making me thing of Ron Silver — a strong actor with a maniacle bent, who you know through their movements and mannerisms that they were tough as nails. Abruzzo (Sterling) was a joy to watch in his negotiations with Kollender (Jackie) over the stamps: you knew the deal would be consummated, but the passionate play was just fun to watch. Greasing the wheels was Chris L. McKenna as Dennis — a role that O (Ovington Michael Owston) was meant to play). McKenna was casual but slimey, someone who knew how to play people, especially women. Lastly, as Mary, Monette Magrath initially came off as vulnerable, someone who really didn’t want to deal with the death of her mother — she just wanted to get her stamp collection and go home, but later showed the toughness that ran in her family. All of these performances were just spot one: great characterizations, great acting.
[All actors are members of æ Actors Equity ]

A lot of this was due to the story by Theresa Rebeck. From the first scene in the stamp store, the dialogue was so well crafted you felt that you were looking at real life. I’m sure this was aided by the direction of Jessica Kubzansky, who was able to pull perfection from her actors.

Turning to the technical: the scenic design by Tom Buderwitz consisted of three locales on one rotating set, all well constructed. The lighting design by Jaymi Lee Smith was very naturalistic (with no spots that I could tell). The costumes, by Maggie Morgan (who is on the faculty of UC Davis) made the actors look like real people (yes, that’s a complement). Original sound and music design was by John Zalewski, with fight choreography by Tim Weiske. Production stage management was by Jill Gold, assisted by Hethyr Verhoef.

Mauritius” continues at the Pasadena Playhouse through April 26. Tickets are available from the Playhouse; half-price tickets appear to be available through LA Stage Tix.

Upcoming Theatre: Next week, our theatre takes a different form as we head (likely on Sunday) to the Southern California Renaissance Faire. The weekend of May 2 I’m considering getting tickets for “Alicen”, a new play at LA Valley College featuring our friend Stephanie P. doing vocals and guitar. May 10 (pending ticketing–it looks like I’ll have to do their $25 Simulus Offer, as they are only putting tickets on Goldstar for Thurs and Friday performances) should be “Is He Dead? at ICT Long Beach. May 17 will be “big” at West Coast Ensemble, to be followed by “The Green Room at Hermosa Beach Playhouse on May 24 (pending ticketing). The end of May (May 28, 29, 30) brings “Fiddler on the Roof” at Nobel Middle School, where nsshere is doing the lighting design. On June 6 @ 8pm we’re scheduled for “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” at Repertory East Playhouse, but since we saw that when they did it two years ago, we’re planning to switch to “Fat Pig” in their “81 series” on July 11. As this opens up June 6, we might go to the last weekend of “Marry Me a Little/The Last 5 Years” at East/West Players. Lastly, June 20 @ 8pm is “The Little Foxes” at The Pasadena Playhouse.