by Rita Charleston
Two half-sisters enter the cut-throat world of stamp collecting when they inherit a pair of rare stamps that may be worth millions. While the sisters battle over whether to sell or keep the stamps, three shady stamp collectors will stop at nothing to get their hands on the priceless items. “Mauritius” is the name of this latest offering by the Drama Group, presented Friday and Saturday evenings through April 5 at 8 p.m. in Pilling Hall at The First United Methodist Church of Germantown, 6001 Germantown Ave. between High St. and Walnut Lane.
Germantown’s Robert Bauer, a founding member of the Drama Group, directs the play. “Mauritius is an island off the coast of South Africa, once taken over by the British, and they were only the fifth nation ever to issue stamps,” he explained, “making them extremely valuable. And so begins the intrigue, mixed with twist and turns, comedy and drama.”
Bauer’s own life took a turn when he happened into theater by chance. “I always loved theater but was too shy to ever get involved until one day a group of us were rounded up at First Methodist and asked to do a reading for an Ash Wednesday service,” Bauer recalled. “Well, some of us agree to do it, and in the process found out we were having so much fun that we wanted to do even more. Eventually the Drama Group was formed in 1980, and that’s how I finally, happily got involved in theater.”
Today the group no longer does religious plays but rather showcases mainstream productions. And although they still perform at the church, they are an independent entity no longer associated with the church. Bauer, 72, who directs the plays at what has evolved into a community theater, also acts on occasion, and said when he’s on stage his shyness goes away. ”Being on stage helped me get over my shyness because on stage you’re not yourself but somebody else. And suddenly, because of that, I realized I could be anybody on stage and translate that into my own everyday life.”
Over the years, he’s been seen acting in “Our Town” at the Arden Theatre, “Amadeus” at the Wilma Theatre, “Bus Stop” at Stagecrafters, “Gem of the Ocean” at Bushfire Theater and others. Admitting that acting was his first love, when he auditioned for a part and wasn’t cast, he said he then just sort of fell into directing. “And as an actor I felt I knew what actors needed and wanted from their directors. And even though I was untrained, I felt I could give that to them.”
His directorial skills are now limited to the Drama Group, with the exception of directing one production at Allens Lane, a happy experience he said he may repeat again next season. As a director, Bauer said he’s involved with “hiring the actors and then telling them what to do. I work with them and try to get the best performances out of them that I can. I like to see what the actors have to offer and then work with that, encouraging them to do what they’re already instinctively doing best.”
For the productions, two a year, Bauer said he works with others on designing lights and sound, but designs his own sets with the assistance of his wife, Sandy Clay Bauer. “I met her while we were both attending the Philadelphia College of Art, now part of the University of the Arts. We married in 1969 and have been together and worked together ever since. Before my retirement in 2005, I was a graphic designer and my wife an illustrator.”
They met every challenge as a team, as they do now at the Drama Group. Such a group, Bauer said, must overcome several challenges. “First of all, we perform in a church so people think we’re doing religious drama, and nothing could be further from the truth. I always say we’re the best kept secret in Northwest Philly. We’ve been doing this since 1980 and people still don’t know we’re here. Also,” he adds, “is the stigma of being looked at as ‘just’ community theater, which is hard to overcome, too, and yet this area is very, very rich in good community theater, as anybody who attends theater in our area can vouch for.”
Today, describing himself as an actor and a director, Bauer admits there’s joy in every aspect of his theatrical work. “As an actor, working with other actors to create a character that gets a welcome response from the audience is wonderful. The applause, the laughter, all of it is just great. And as a director, my greatest thrill is watching a production that I put together come to life and see an audience enjoy and appreciate it. What better thrill could there be?
Because of strong language, this production is not recommended for children. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door. For more information, call 215-438-7331 or visit www.thedramagroup.org.