The Stagecrafters theater, 8130 Germantown Ave., begins its season with a preview performance Thursday, Sept. 24, of Theresa Rebeck’s “Mauritius,” which runs three weekends. Jackie and Mary are half-sisters who, upon the death of their mother, have come into possession of a stamp collection which may or may not be valuable. Seen here in rehearsal are Jeff Ragan (left) and Bob McMahon. (Photo by Sara Stewart)

The Stagecrafters theater, 8130 Germantown Ave., begins its season with a preview performance Thursday, Sept. 24, of Theresa Rebeck’s “Mauritius,” which runs three weekends. Jackie and Mary are half-sisters who, upon the death of their mother, have come into possession of a stamp collection which may or may not be valuable. Seen here in rehearsal are Jeff Ragan (left) and Bob McMahon. (Photo by Sara Stewart)

by Hugh Hunter

Stagecrafters opened its fall/winter season with a fine revival of “Mauritius” by Theresa Rebeck and promises to dedicate the year in celebration of American playwrights.

Playwright Rebeck has also written extensively for television police dramas. It shows in “Mauritius” where the dialogue is snappy, confrontational and in the hands of these actors often funny. You always wonder “what will happen next,” but this plot-driven drama also surprises you with its strong sense of character.

Two half-sisters, Jackie and Mary, inherit some rare Mauritian stamps from their deceased mother. They have been estranged since childhood and vaguely allude to the horrible abuse they suffered from Jackie’s father.

While both are eager to take possession of the stamps, so are a trio of con-men: Dennis; Philip, a professional stamp dealer, and Sterling, a shady international middleman. Like the sisters, Philip and Sterling share some dark secret, which in their case concerns Philip’s ex-wife.

In writing “Mauritius” Rebeck is exceptionally skillful. Even as she keeps you guessing with her unpredictable plot, you are always waiting for the characters to fully reveal their painful secrets. Cleverly, they never do, which makes them more powerful. For as the old saying has it, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Directed by Marilyn Yoblick, the splendid cast convincingly portrays troubled souls. The pluck and earnestness of Jackie (Leah Holleran) contrasts perfectly with Mary (Heather Ferrel), an urbane and conniving older sister.  Likewise, Jeff Ragan is brilliant as thuggish Sterling as he plays off Jackie and dejected, dog-faced Philip (Scott R. Grumling).

The one weak point of “Mauritius” is the Dennis character, (Bob McMahon).  In his case Rebeck does not give us any mysterious hints about his past.  And he is something of a walking self-contradiction: a generous and sympathetic con artist!  Rebeck needs Dennis for plot progression, but unlike the others you never come to feel you really know who he is.

The play is set in an unnamed city and has three sets: a collectibles shop, a family home and a coffee shop. A handful of expressive, moveable props enable seamless scene changes (set design Scott Killinger; set decor Yaga Brady), and the bluesy background jazz music feels exactly right (sound design Patrick Martin).

To create vivid and memorable characters in a play driven by plot and action is relatively rare, a tribute to both playwright and production. What is really at stake in “Mauritius” is the ability of the characters to work out their greed in such a way as to heal their private suffering.

The ones you want to win do so in a delightful surprise ending. And the ones you come to dislike you suspect will continue to live with their misery, no matter how much money they have.

Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “Mauritius” will run through Oct 11. Reservations available at 215-247-9913.

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